Puerto Rico to shut 179 schools, relocate 27k students amid historic bankruptcy

The largest mass shuttering of public schools in Puerto Rico’s history follows the island declaring bankruptcy on a record $70 billion debt. Restructuring the entire school system presents “a unique opportunity,” the education secretary says.

On Friday, the Puerto Rico Department of Education announced the island will close 179 schools and relocate an estimated 27,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade as part of a school overhaul that will take effect the next school year. 

Newly appointed Education Secretary Julia Keleher described the redesign as “a unique opportunity to improve the system,” and said the move was carried out “with students as a priority.

Keleher said the list of schools initially began with 370 low-enrollment schools, which then grew to 439 “for various reasons.” After further analysis the final decision was reached to close 179 schools, leaving a total of 1,113 schools open as of next August.

A full list of the schools that are set to close was posted by El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper on Friday.

Between 2010 and 2015, Puerto Rico closed roughly 150 schools. The island currently has 1,292 public schools for 365,000 students.

Since 1980, the island has seen a 42 percent drop in the number of students enrolled in public schools, according to a report on restructuring Puerto Rico’s education system submitted to former President Barack Obama by the Boston Consulting Group.

The report shows how enrollment in public schools on the island had dropped 27 percent, and the number of teachers had declined by 18 percent over the past 10 years.

A major reason for the decline derives from the historic outmigration, which has caused the population on the island to fall by about 446,000 from 2005 to 2015, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

The report from the Boston Consulting Group recommends reconsolidating schools to reflect the declining population. The report estimates reconsolidation could free up to $249 million a year in costs by 2020.

The report also found that 30 percent of the students in Puerto Rico receive special education, which is more than double the US average.

In order to accommodate the needs of the students, Keleher said the schools were looked at “one by one.” She claims the redesign will provide students with “added value” such as bilingual programs and classes in STEM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).

The school closures is expected to save the government more than $7 million while the island deals with a historic $73 billion debt crisis.

We have a fiscal crisis and few resources and we’ve spent 10 years handing out nearly $3 billion in a system that hardly has any books,” Keleher told the Associated Press. “We cannot keep doing what we’re doing because we don’t have the resources.