WASHINGTON : Today, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona met with Puerto Rico Interim Secretary of Education Eliezer Ramos to discuss new actions to improve educational outcomes for students.
After today’s meeting, the Department announced the formation of the Puerto Rico Education Sustainability (PRES) Team whose purpose is to provide comprehensive support for Puerto Rico, including coordination with stakeholders that assists the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) and institutions of higher education in strengthening the stewardship of federal funds and helping improve educational outcomes for students.
“It was just over two months ago when I met with Secretary Ramos in Puerto Rico and we began talking about the collaborative work that we envisioned to serve students in Puerto Rico. I am happy to share that we haven’t stopped working since that trip and today we’re highlighting another milestone of that effort,” said Secretary Cardona. “We will work together as partners—for students, for their success, and for the future of Puerto Rico.”
“I have to thank Secretary Cardona and President Biden for this. This is a major change in the relationship between the United States Department of Education and the Puerto Rico Department of Education,” said Puerto Rico Interim Secretary of Education Eliezer Ramos. “We have the same goals, and this collaborative effort will move forward the agenda of the students and teachers of Puerto Rico.”
The team has started initial work collaborating with the PRDE and identified three key priority areas:
Financial responsibility, with the goal of PRDE regaining financial management authority of their federal funds;
Safe and healthy school buildings, working with partners to provide technical assistance as the PRDE continues school infrastructure improvements; and
Program support, continuing to support PRDE in their use of American Rescue Plan (ARP) and other federal pandemic recovery funds, along with bolstered technical assistance for high-quality instruction and programs and improved implementation of major formula grant programs.
Students in Puerto Rico have faced significant challenges in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, school closures, multiple earthquakes, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These compounding events have significantly impacted instruction for students on the island. In response, Secretary Cardona visited Puerto Rico in June 2021 to meet with stakeholders and hear about the challenges with reopening schools and discuss opportunities for partnership.
During this visit, Secretary Cardona also announced the release of federal education pandemic relief funds and other education program dollars for the Commonwealth.
The Department has continued building on previous work to better understand the critical needs of the PRDE as it serves over 260,000 students on the island.
As of July 2021, the Department has released nearly $5 billion to Puerto Rico including:
$2 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act;
$1.2 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA);
$662 million in FY 2020 program grants; and
$912 million in federal education funds, which had not been available to Puerto Rico as a result of previously imposed grant conditions.
In the near term, the Department will deploy a team to the island to work hand in hand with the PRDE and partners, continue listening sessions, and address immediate support needs. Additionally, the PRES team will work with PRDE to ensure progress continues as Puerto Rico deploys recovery funds recently made available by the Department.
The unprecedented volume of grant funds and unique infrastructure challenges in Puerto Rico are a priority to support student learning needs. The Department intends to refine and assess the effectiveness of these efforts, so they can be adapted to our support for other grantees where it might also be helpful.