Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced has announced an aggressive stimulus package for Puerto Rico. The plan, which the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board has approved, will give cash payments of $500 or more to individuals and businesses, pay for medical supplies for hospitals and first responders, and put a moratorium on mortgages and car payments.
It will also buy $250 million in educational hardware and software for remote education. Puerto Rico’s schools are closed. Schools are closed in most states, too, but there is a difference.
Before the coronavirus struck, many school children in Puerto Rico were attending classes in tents because their schools had been damaged by earthquakes. Before that, hundreds of schools were closed following Hurricane Maria. Many of Puerto Rico’s schoolchildren have not had a stable school experience for years.
The video above shows examples of some of the challenges schools are facing just in terms of their physical integrity. Vermin and mold have been problems over many months. These factors have affected children’s health, too. Asthma is a common problem among children in Puerto Rico.
While funds have been allocated by Congress for schools, the money has not been available. In many cases, the funds have not been provided to Puerto Rico. Sometimes the funds have to be spent first and then reimbursed; municipalities don’t have the funds to pay for repairs up front.
Virtual learning may be a better solution. Certainly, given the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be the best solution in the short run.
Is this happening in the states?
We don’t have to ask whether Puerto Rico’s schools would be better off if Puerto Rico were already a state. We can look at the schools in the 50 states.
There are certainly needs in America’s schools. Inner city schools in particular deal with poor heating and cooling, obsolete plumbing, and damaged buildings. A Government Accountability Office report in 1995 found that one third of U.S. schools needed significant repair or upkeep to meet local safety standards.
But those schools have spent billions on upkeep over the years. When conditions have been bad, there have been lawsuits to force repairs. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019 will invest $100 billion dollars in school building improvements.
In the states, schools’ roofs do not collapse and remain in that condition for months or years. Schools may operate without air conditioning, but they do not operate without electricity or running water. Schools close to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but they do not close because they are uninhabitable.
How will statehood affect education in Puerto Rico? This is not a great mystery. We can simply look at schools in Puerto Rico and in the states and compare them directly. As a state, Puerto Rico will have the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of the states. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equality among the states, and the presence of senators and congresspeople representing the states gives them advocates in Washington.
Tell your legislators that you want equality for Puerto Rico.