Nine lawmakers on the U.S. Senate education committee are asking the panel’s chairman to hold hearings on the state of schools in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In a Dec. 21 letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the senators said such proceedings would help provide “a detailed understanding of the health and education challenges facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as an understanding of how departments under the committee’s purview have provided relief, and how they can improve relief efforts.”
The letter was signed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Cassidy is a Republican, Sanders is an independent, and the others are Democrats.
“The hurricanes also devastated the territories’ education systems,” the letter states. “Students in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico missed weeks of school as a result of the hurricanes. Though some of Puerto Rico’s 1,113 public schools have reopened, the island’s Secretary of Education estimates that up to 20 percent will ‘have to be permanently shuttered.’ Of the schools that have reopened, some are still filled with debris and have no running water or electricity. School districts throughout the U.S. mainland — including in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts — have seen an influx of Puerto Rican students, placing additional strain on already-limited public education budgets.”
Last month, Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said the vast majority of the island’s schools had reopened, but that many had done so despite their poor condition, and after a decline in student enrollment.