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Only 3 percent of Puerto Rico’s roughly 319,000 students would be eligible for vouchers under the new law, which would also cap the number of charter schools at 10 percent of the total number of schools. About 840 traditional public schools will remain after this summer’s closings, down from 1,110 this year. Right now, almost 500 of them have an occupancy of less than 60 percent, according to the Education Department, which says enrollment has dropped by 38,700 since May 2017.
Enrollment is expected to fall to about 312,000 in the upcoming school year and keep dropping, albeit at a slower pace, to about 292,000 in 2021, according to the department’s projections.
Teacher unions dispute those estimates, saying the decline has been less drastic, in part because some Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland after the hurricane have since returned. But the loss of students began long before Maria.
“Every year, we lose 20,000 kids,” Ms. Keleher said, pulling up a chart on her cellphone showing the enrollment decline even before the storm. “This isn’t benefiting anybody.”
The Education Department initially announced 283 schools would close, and then lowered the number to 265.
Closing fewer schools at a time and stretching the process out over several years, as suggested by the federal oversight board, was a possibility, Ms. Keleher said. But that would only extend the pain, she said, and make it more difficult to plan for the long term. Consolidating schools will save about $150 million this year through reduced operating costs and attrition, according to the fiscal plan governing Puerto Rico’s finances. The savings will allow the Education Department to equalize spending per student and start saving for capital improvements, Ms. Keleher said. “The system has to be able to budget and project.”
Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠