Student enrollment in Puerto Rico schools has dropped by more than 38,000 since May

Puerto Rico says it is closing 283 schools

April 6, 2018
Officials say enrollment has plummeted as thousands of families have left the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's devastation.

Puerto Rico's Department of Education has announced that it will close 283 schools this summer following a sharp drop in enrollment amid the departure of families in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The Associated Press reports that Education Secretary Julia Keleher says no employees will be laid off. Teachers and other staff will be reassigned to other schools as part of a fiscal plan that aims to save the department about $150 million.

The U.S. territory has 319,000 students in more than 1,100 public schools.

Keleher says enrollment has dropped by more than 38,700 students since May. Nearly half of the island's schools are using only 60 percent of their capacity.

After the closures, 828 public schools will remain operational. Keleher has invited mayors in from Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities to propose new uses for the shuttered schools.

The announcement of closures came two weeks after Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed a bill that initiates a charter schools pilot program in 10 percent of public schools and offers private school vouchers to 3 percent of students starting in 2019-20.

Aida Diaz, president of a union that represents some 30,000 teachers, says she and others will fight the closures.

"The damage that the Secretary of Education is doing to children, youth and their parents is immeasurable," Diaz says.

The drop in enrollment comes after roughly a half million people have fled Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland in the past decade during the long recession. An estimated 135,000 have left since Hurricane Maria devastated much of the island in September.

Puerto Rico closed 150 schools from 2010 to 2015, and last year announced it would be closing another 179 schools.

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