The teacher prep period time is up. The bell rang and the students started coming into the classroom. The 50 minutes of preparation were spent calling parents who had not followed up on their children’s performance in school and completing referrals to the social worker. Those 50 minutes are the time teachers have available each day, in theory, to organize their class material, upload information about their students to the Department of Education’s (DE) digital archives, or get other tasks done. But the educator — who prefers not to identify herself — teaches five groups; at least 125 students in total.
The Department of Education (DE) officially allocates school budgets considering the size of enrollment, the school community’s poverty level, the school’s academic program and students needs, as well as compliance with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). But most school principals don’t understand the Department’s process for setting the cost per student. This is the conclusion from the interviews that the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) conducted with a dozen school directors. If you look up Vimenti Alliance School’s cost per student on the DE School Profile webpage for 2020, it says $6,112. If you ask the Department’s Budget Office what the cost per student is for that same school for the same year, they’ll tell you it’s $3,241.
The Puerto Rico Department of Education’s (DE) “vision of the future” proposes the closing of another 83 schools by 2026, affecting 18,644 students, according to a new infrastructure master plan to which the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) had access, although in May 2021 Interim Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés pledged that the agency would not close more campuses. Most of these closings, which the Department calls “consolidations” in the document and which are displayed on an interactive map created by the DE, are in the educational regions of Humacao, Ponce and San Juan. Humacao and Ponce, preceded by Mayagüez and San Juan, were the regions that saw the most closings in the past four years, under the administration of the former secretary and now federal convict, Julia B. Keleher. Although the plan identifies some as receivers schools, it does not specify from which closed campus they will receive students. Document: “Vision of the future” of the Department of Education of Puerto RicoDownload
These new proposed closings clash with teacher unions’ demands for more space to guarantee small groups of students in the face of the COVID-19 rebound, as well as from other organizations and academics that have proven how the quality of teaching improves through these practices.
Outside the Santiago Veve Calzada School, in Fajardo, a ninth-grade student walks with her mother. It is noon and the three schools that run on this campus on an “interlocking” model are changing shifts. The youngster took the Baseline diagnostic test, which seeks to measure the academic lag of students. When asked about the process, the youngster simply shakes her head, as if to say no. Her mother asks hers to speak up and describe her experience.