(CN) — The Puerto Rico Department of Education will decentralize and shift to a regional and local model to improve its services to students, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday.
Puerto Rico operates a unitary education system, meaning the state agency is in charge of local administration of schools. In most states, there is a centralized department of education that oversees local school systems.
Local officials will work with students, teachers and other stakeholders to create a decentralization plan and submit it to the island’s governor and education secretary within three months.
"The important actions announced today will lead to a better tomorrow for students and families across Puerto Rico," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a press release. “[W]e 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.”
Only Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands operate under a similar structure, but they are nowhere near as large as Puerto Rico. The island, home to more than 3.28 million people, has the sixth largest education system in the U.S. with roughly 225,000 students, 850 schools and 25,000 teachers.
The DOE said the structure has slowed the distribution of federal resources to students.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi said that the plan will allow schools to better respond to local needs. He explained that, on top of the supplies each facility receives yearly, principals will receive a debit card at the start of the next semester to make direct purchases of necessary supplies
"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," Pierluisi said in a press release.
The government of the island, which remains a territory, has struggled to cope with billions of dollars of debt, widespread poverty, the lasting impacts of Hurricane Maria in 2017, an earthquake in 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Those problems have hampered the education system, which has struggled with disruptions and declining enrollment.
Over the past two years, Cardona has signed off on more than $4.2 billion in direct aid for the island’s school system after reversing a Trump administration decision to restrict pandemic aid to the island.
"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,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Eliezer Ramos Parés said in a press release. “We will be allies in this joint effort that, without a doubt, will be a step forward for our schools.”
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