The cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico will close about 100 public schools in response to the 40 percent decline in its the student population over the past three decades.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla in his budget message for the coming fiscal year announced a reorganization plan for the education sector with which he expects to save more than $90 million.
He justified the measure by emphasizing the need to adjust to the island's new demographic reality, given that over the past few decades its student population has been declining both due to aging and the exodus of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland in search of better opportunities.
Puerto Rico at the end of the 1980s had a student population of 716,000 in its public schools, but that number currently stands at 430,000, according to figures provided by the Teachers Association.
The association's president, Aida Diaz, told Efe that it is not forecasting that the school closures will mean that any teachers will have to be laid off.
The closing of the schools is also being undertaken due to the physical deterioration that some of them have experienced, and authorities want to concentrate the students in the schools that are better equipped and in better repair, she said.
In addition, the governor announced in his budgetary message that school transportation services will now be managed by the municipalities.
To determine which schools will be closed, the reorganization process will take into consideration the declining student population, the condition of infrastructure and the nearness of other schools, among other factors.
Puerto Rico currently pays private bus companies some $185 million a year to transport students, a level of spending that Education Secretary Roman Melendez says is out of proportion to the services provided.