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U.S. Department of Education Supports Government of Puerto Rico’s Move to Decentralize the Puerto Rico Department of Education

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Today, the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) expressed its support for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s decision and commitment to decentralize the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE). Over the last two years, the Department has engaged in a rigorous deliberative process with the PRDE, other local government agencies, and community stakeholders in addition to providing unprecedented technical assistance and support to the PRDE. This announcement reflects an enhanced strategy to overcome the system’s challenges to ensure that students and families are benefitting from a school system that responds directly to their needs.

“The important actions announced today will lead to a better tomorrow for students and families across Puerto Rico,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “I applaud Governor Pedro Pierluisi for taking this bold step to decentralize Puerto Rico’s education system, because we know that students do better when schools are responsive to young people’s needs and when they partner directly with the parents, families, and communities they serve. The Department stands ready to support this transition and to intentionally collaborate with the PRDE to reimagine Puerto Rico’s school system and transform it into one that is truly capable of putting students first.”

The PRDE, the sixth largest school district in the nation, currently operates as a unitary education system. This means that the PRDE serves as both the State Educational Agency (SEA) and the Local Educational Agency (LEA). Few other educational jurisdictions operate under this structure — specifically, Hawai’i, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa – and all of them have significantly smaller populations.

 “Our goal is to enable the decentralization of our education system so that all our students, as well as their parents, and their teachers, can have the confidence that their school can respond directly to their needs and aspirations. We want the day-to-day decisions to be made at the regional level and the resources to reach our children directly in the public education system,” said Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi. “Moreover, to prove that we are taking action quickly, in addition to the expanded set of school supplies and materials that every school will receive, at the beginning of next semester each school principal will have a debit card that will allow them to make purchases directly for the supplies they need, because we want our children to focus on learning and our teachers to focus on teaching from the first day of school.”

“We want to thank the United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Governor Pedro Pierluisi for always prioritizing progress for our public education system. At the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we have begun to work towards streamlining processes so that this notice of decentralization can adapt to our schools’ reality. Our main priority and our work is geared towards allocating the necessary resources to our schools and communities, with diligence and efficiency, to provide the best education for our children and youth. We will be allies in this joint effort that, without a doubt, will be a step forward for our schools,” said Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Eliezer Ramos Parés.

Today’s announcement means Puerto Rico will launch the Initiative of Decentralization of Education and Autonomy of Regions (IDEAR) that will begin the process of implementing a decentralized model. Under this model, Puerto Rico will establish a new system structure that separates the SEA and LEA functions. The IDEAR will deliver a plan to the Puerto Rico Secretary of Education and Governor within 90 days, detailing both the short- and long-term milestones towards decentralization. The plan will be developed through a collaborative process that engages students, teachers, and education stakeholders to ensure that efforts are teacher-responsive and student-centered. Once fully implemented, decentralization will facilitate the swift and effective deployment of federal resources and promote increased autonomy for regions and schools, resulting in greater opportunity and outcomes for the students of Puerto Rico.

This system transformation is a historic commitment from the Government of Puerto Rico to the children and families of the Island to reimagine a school system that will better prepare students as key contributors to Puerto Rico’s health and prosperity.

Over the last two years, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized supporting the students of Puerto Rico through our pandemic responses. Within months of taking office, in June 2021, Secretary Cardona formed the Puerto Rico Education Sustainability (PRES) team at the U.S. Department of Education to help Puerto Rico administer the unprecedented $3 billion in funding provided by the $130 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for K-12 education. In total, the Biden-Harris Administration has released some $4.9 billion to Puerto Rico since taking office. This includes:

  • $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act; and
  • $1.2 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA).

Additionally, the Department awards some $600+ million in annual program grants each fiscal year.

 In July 2022, public school teachers on the Island started receiving a $1,000 monthly salary increase that was made possible through ARP funding. This is a 30 percent increase for the average teacher in Puerto Rico. Earlier this year, the Department approved the PRDE’s use of ARP funds for short column repairs at schools impacted by natural disasters. This funding is helping to accelerate repairs that will make schools and classrooms safer and accessible for educators and students. In June 2022, the Department also released a comprehensive technical assistance plan that was developed collaboratively with the PRDE and responds directly to the programmatic and fiscal needs of PRDE staff in the management of federal programs and funds. And in December 2022, as part of the first-ever Puerto Rico Economic Dialogue hosted by the White House, the Department and the PRDE announced partnerships to build administrative capacity, improve management across Puerto Rico’s school system and strengthen career pathways for Puerto Rico’s students. hosted by the White House, the Department and the PRDE announced partnerships to build administrative capacity, improve management across Puerto Rico’s school system and strengthen career pathways for Puerto Rico’s students.

The Department stands ready to support the PRDE in this historic transition to a 21st century school system that is well-situated to meet the needs and address the challenges of educating a robust workforce that can contribute to the betterment of Puerto Rico.

More information on the announcement can be found here.

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