Puerto Rico’s Department of Education announced yesterday (April 5) that it will close down 283 of its public schools amid a drastic decline in enrollment and the ongoing departure of the island’s families after Hurricane Maria, as reported by The Associated Press. The decision is part of a fiscal plan that aims to save the department $150 million

Almost a half million people left the island between 2010 and 2015 as the economic crisis and recession worsened. Nearly 135,000 of the island’s residents left after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September. 

The island’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement that there would be no layoffs and the department would work on reassigning teachers and staffers to work in other schools. “Our children deserve the best education that we are capable of giving them, taking into account Puerto Rico’s fiscal reality,” Keleher said. “We are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.”

There are currently more than 1,100 schools serving 319,00 students on the island, per The Washington Post

Aida Díaz, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, condemned the closures in a statement posted on Facebook, in Spanish:

The damage that the secretary of education is doing to students, youth and parents is immeasurable…. The unjust school closures go in line with her job to advance an agenda in favor of private companies that will benefit from our children’s public education funds. We stand with the education community and we will fight together to avoid these discriminatory and unjust school closures.

The school closure announcement comes two weeks after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Roselló signed a bill to implement a charter school pilot program for 10 percent of the island’s public schools, and private school vouchers for three percent of students, as part of an education overhaul starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

On Tuesday (April 3), the teachers’ union, which represents 30,000 teachers, filed a lawsuit against the island’s education department to stop the charter school and voucher program, saying the use of public funds and property for private schools is unconstitutional. 

Since last May, school enrollmment has dropped by nearly 38,700 students across the island, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Education.