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DeLauro Urges DeVos to Work with the Puerto Rico Department of Education to Ensure Access to Education Funds

October 13, 2020
Press Release

DeLauro in a letter to Secretary DeVos: “I strongly believe the current situation is untenable. PRDE needs to have timely access to Title I, IDEA, and all fiscal year 2019 Federal education funds so that they can fully provide all necessary services for their students.”

WASHINGTON, DC — Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, today sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos requesting the Department of Education (the Department) work with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) to ensure timely access to education funds appropriated in fiscal year 2019, including funds for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs.

In her letter, DeLauro wrote, “On average, other State Educational Agencies have drawn down 65 percent of their fiscal year 2019 funds for both programs. Title I is vital in supporting PRDE’s work to provide educational services to schools serving low-income students so that they can make progress towards meeting challenging academic standards. IDEA supports PRDE’s work to ensure all students with disabilities receive their full rights for a ‘free and appropriate education,’ including all rights and services outlined in individualized education programs.”

In June 2019, the Department established specific fiscal conditions PRDE must follow in order to access certain education funding. The conditions include a requirement that PRDE fully spend all funds appropriated in fiscal year 2018 before accessing funds appropriated in fiscal year 2019 until PRDE secures a contract for a third-party fiduciary agent (TPFA). Due to the complexity of negotiations between multiple financial oversight boards and PRDE, a TPFA is not yet finalized. As a result, PRDE is prevented from expending FY19 education funds, including Title I and IDEA.

“I strongly believe the current situation is untenable,” DeLauro continued. “PRDE needs to have timely access to Title I, IDEA, and all fiscal year 2019 Federal education funds so that they can fully provide all necessary services for their students.”

The full text of the letter is below. A PDF copy is available here.

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I write to request your assistance in working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) to ensure timely access to education funds appropriated in fiscal year 2019, including funds for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs.

I understand that the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) established fiscal year 2020 Departmental Specific Conditions on June 28, 2019 that would require PRDE to apply “first in-first out” accounting procedures until PRDE finalizes a contract with a third-party fiduciary agent (TFPA). Accordingly, until a contract is in place, PRDE must fully expend all appropriated funds from fiscal year 2018 before expending funds appropriated in fiscal year 2019. However, I am concerned that PRDE’s efforts to reach an agreement on a TFPA contract with the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority and the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico have been delayed. These complex negotiations have resulted in not finalizing a contract with a TFPA and, due to the 2020 Departmental Specific Conditions, prevented PRDE from drawing down critically needed fiscal year 2019 education funds for Puerto Rico’s low-income children and students with disabilities.

As of September 9, 2020, PRDE has not drawn down any of the $406 million for Title I and $129 million for IDEA Grants to States appropriated for Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2019. On average, other State Educational Agencies have drawn down 65 percent of their fiscal year 2019 funds for both programs. Title I is vital in supporting PRDE’s work to provide educational services to schools serving low-income students so that they can make progress towards meeting challenging academic standards. IDEA supports PRDE’s work to ensure all students with disabilities receive their full rights for a “free and appropriate education,” including all rights and services outlined in individualized education programs.

I strongly believe the current situation is untenable. PRDE needs to have timely access to Title I, IDEA, and all fiscal year 2019 Federal education funds so that they can fully provide all necessary services for their students. While I recognize the need for proper oversight of disbursement of Federal funds, bureaucracy and system complexity should not have a negative impact on students in Puerto Rico. I would like to work with you and your staff to find a solution that gives the Department adequate oversight while giving PRDE access to the funds that they need until a final agreement is reached on a TFPA contract.

I look forward to your response.