Puerto Rico will receive nearly $4 billion in federal pandemic relief funds for education as part of the American Rescue Plan, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced while visiting the island.
“The students of Puerto Rico have suffered enough,” Cardona said on Monday, according to the AP, during a trip to the American territory — a first for a cabinet secretary in the Biden administration. “It’s time to get back to school safely and quickly.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement that the new funds would help repair school buildings, making necessary improvements to schools that suffered damage from earthquakes. Two billion dollars will come from the American Rescue Plan, $1.2 billion will come from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and an additional $662 million will come from program grants.
In March, Cardona announced the release of another $912 million in federal education funds which had not been made available to Puerto Rico due to restrictions placed by the Trump administration. Biden’s approach to the American citizens of Puerto Rico has been vastly different than his predecessor’s. In April, Biden also released more than $8 billion in Hurricane Maria recovery funds that Trump had prevented Puerto Rico from accessing.
“Today’s announcement reinforces the Biden Administration’s strong partnership with the island and underscores our shared commitment to supporting Puerto Rico’s students, educators, and families,” Cardona said. “I look forward to the progress we will continue to make together now, and in the weeks and months ahead.”
The island’s public school system tried to reopen in March, but an increase in Covid-19 cases forced schools to close again in April. According to the AP, approximately 24,000 students in Puerto Rico failed their classes this past year, and 13,000 earned an ‘F’ grade in all of their classes. Many students live below the poverty line and in unsafe housing without internet or computers. Already $210 million of the $912 million funds from March are providing summer learning and enrichment programs to students who failed, hosted by Puerto Rico’s Department of Education.
Cases of Covid-19 have been declining in Puerto Rico, with a current seven-day average of 45 new cases and one death. Earlier this month, the territory eased its entry protocols around Covid-19 and raised the number of people allowed in commercial businesses to help its tourism industry rebound after an economic lull caused by the pandemic. According to CDC data, as of June 18, more than 42 percent of the territory’s population is fully vaccinated.