Newly sworn-in U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has had a busy — and expensive — week. In addition to granting $1 billion in student loan debt relief, Cardona recently released $912 million in federal funds to public and private schools in Puerto Rico. The previously approved funding was blocked for more than a year after the Trump administration had imposed restrictions on spending.
In a statement, Cardona (who is of Puerto Rican heritage) said, “the Department is committed to partnering with and supporting Puerto Rico in the efficient and effective use of Department funds to serve Puerto Rico’s students, including to safely reopen schools and maximize in-person instructional time.”
Nicole Acevedo of NBC News reported that “the new funds come less than two weeks after Puerto Rico reopened dozens of public and private schools for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
“The aid was awarded after Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi sent a letter to Cardona on March 5 requesting immediate access to previously approved aid ‘in order to provide the necessary resources for the students of Puerto Rico,’” Acevedo reported.
“Our students have endured a lot, since the hurricanes from 2017 to earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic, and they deserve to go back to normal. These resources will provide the necessary funds to satisfy the needs of our students on the island,” Pierluisi said in Spanish. “On behalf of our children, teachers, and the parents of Puerto Rico, I thank Secretary Miguel Cardona for his commitment to supporting Puerto Rico and President Biden for quickly granting Puerto Rico access to these federal funds.”
The newly released funding includes $390 million that was approved under the CARES Act as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and $522 million in education department grants from 2019, which includes funds awarded to the state under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
According to Acevedo, “in 2019, the Trump administration imposed restrictions limiting Puerto Rico’s ability to access federal funds allocated to the island’s education system, citing a history of mismanagement within the Puerto Rico Department of Education.”
“We are confident in our relationship with Puerto Rico, we are confident that what our students need right now is support,” Cardona told Puerto Rico’s national newspaper, El Nuevo Día. “They can’t wait any longer. They can’t continue to talk about reopening schools without [the government] providing the support they need.”