Puerto Rico awarded $912 million in retained education funds under Trump admin
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona grants Puerto Rico Access to Pandemic Relief Aid
On March 22, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi got a call from the U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona who announced his approval of the governor’s request to immediately release funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) from 2020.
Pierluisi sent this request on March 5, just days after Cardona was sworn into office.
Cardona’s letter confirmed that his department has provided Puerto Rico “immediate” access to $912 million in Federal education funds, which had not been available to Puerto Rico as a result of previously imposed grant conditions under the Trump administration.
These funds include $390 million under the CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.
The funds also include all fiscal year 2019 Department program grant funds totaling $522 million, including funds under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to Cardona’s press release.
— PRFAA (@PRFAA) March 22, 2021
“As the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico faces the challenges of the pandemic and continues to recover from the hurricanes and the more recent earthquakes, the Department understands the urgency to access vital Federal education funds to meet the needs of Puerto Rican students who are experiencing compounded trauma,” Cardona wrote.
The delayed funds come as Puerto Rico continues to struggle to recover and rebuild following catastrophic hurricanes Irma and Maria, along with a slew of earthquakes at the start of 2020. Then the pandemic hit, forcing hundreds of schools to close for nearly a year. So soon after the natural disasters, many struggled with power outages while virtual learning became the norm.
Expanding access to education, and providing more funding for Puerto Rico’s schools and education system was part of Biden’s plan for Puerto Rico over the campaign trail.
While these retained pandemic funds are long needed, Biden has yet to deliver on these separate promises to strengthen Puerto Rico’s education.
In the meantime, while the funds are said to be “immediately available, the U.S. Department of Education will work with Puerto Rico officials to identify how the money would be used to address the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students in the U.S. territory, according to a spokeswoman for Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s non-voting congressional representative.
In her own statement, González, a key advocate in the fight for Puerto Rican statehood, applauded Cardona’s decision and Gov. Pierluisi’s initiative to send the initial letter of request.
Hoy le están dando acceso a #PuertoRico al resto de los fondos del CARES Act—$389,607,211 totales bajo ESSER I y GEER I y más $522 millones en fondos regulares del año fiscal 2019 para un total de $912 millones que logramos en fondos para la educación en nuestra Isla. pic.twitter.com/0S3ntsb1M2
[— Jenniffer González (@RepJenniffer) March 22, 2021
“Thanks, @SecCardona for releasing these overdue funds that were held up under the Trump Admin. and that @SenSchumer, @SenWarren, @rosadelauro and I have been fighting for. This money must go directly to helping students in Puerto Rico,” Rep. Nydia Velazquez wrote in response on Twitter.
Thanks, @SecCardona for releasing these overdue funds that were held up under the Trump Admin. and that @SenSchumer, @SenWarren, @rosadelauro and I have been fighting for. This money must go directly to helping students in Puerto Rico. https://t.co/zEK3O6B4jW
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) March 22, 2021
Most recently, she has been advocating for Puerto Rican Self Determination, along with fellow Puerto Rican Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Further details on the funds, including whether they may be used to buy supplies including computers or face masks, were not specified in the press release.
In February, Gov. Pierluisi authorized the reopening of certain public and private schools despite the ongoing pandemic. Students in kindergarten, special ed, and grades 1, 2, and 12 have returned to a version of in-person learning on the island.