Repairing Puerto Rico's schools post-Maria will cost $11B, take 7 years
- Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher told Education Week that it will cost $11 billion and take from three years to seven years to bring the U.S. territory’s 856 public schools up to new building codes after they were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
- Keleher said she will try to secure $100 million of unspent Federal Emergency Management Agency Category B financial assistance, which pays for urgent health and safety work like mold remediation. In a December 2018 press release, FEMA said work on the schools will focus on resiliency and energy efficiency.
- Puerto Rico’s schools are also able to tap into approximately $1 billion of long-term construction work at 64 schools, which are supposed to be a realistic sampling of the type of work that is needed at all of the island’s educational facilities. Work on those 64 structures will better inform the Puerto Rico Department of Education as to how much total construction costs will be.
Puerto Rico’s plan to restore its schools, however, could change if President Donald Trump declares a national emergency in order to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall as a military construction project. If that is the case, he will be able to access the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' disaster reconstruction money that has yet to be allocated to specific projects but is intended, in part, to pay for much of the rebuilding in Puerto Rico.
If Democratic lawmakers continue to deny the president’s $5.7 billion request for border wall funding, and Trump does declare a state of national emergency as a result, he will have approximately $23 billion of funds — $10 billion from the current defense budget and $13 billion remaining from past years — to direct toward construction of a barrier. However, that will only be the case if the decision survives the anticipated legal challenges.
The project must meet the definition of a military construction project, according to Stars and Stripes, and must also be part of an effort to support deployed troops. Reportedly, the Pentagon is going through its list of construction projects to determine if any could be delayed or scrapped in case the president makes a declaration.
Meanwhile, the fight between the White House and Democratic lawmakers about border security has led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Many government offices have been closed since Dec. 21, and neither side shows any sign of giving in.
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