Plaskett, V.I. teacher’s union leaders in D.C. pushing for school recovery funding

Top lawmakers on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Thursday are hearing from teachers affected by Hurricanes Maria in Irma. They’re demanding more money from Congress and less restrictions over that money to help rebuild the islands schools.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) and leaders from the American Federation of Teachers covering all corners of the islands, held a news conference outside the Capitol Thursday morning in Washington. They’re not only calling for more funding, but they’re making the case to the committee that what money has been made available, has taken too long to receive.

“We’re asking for the red tape to be tailored some to make sure the daily is not as strong,” said Carol Callwood, President of AFT Local St. Thomas, USVI.

The U.S. Virgin Islands Board of Education reported a drop of nearly 4,000 students enrolled in schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, while Puerto Rico’s Department of Education closed 265 schools last summer, according to Plaskett’s office.

Five schools on Thursday opened across the islands, Plaskett said, now one year after the hurricanes ravaged the islands and Puerto Rico.

Those union leaders, painting a bleak picture of the current conditions. In some cases, many students are learning in makeshift schools, such as trailers; schools that have been reopened and considered safe, they say, are still loaded with mold and it’s making teachers sick.

That follows reports this week of teachers on St. Croix who walked out of the classroom, because the conditions were so unsafe.

“There’s not enough furniture in the classrooms, there is not enough supplies. Textbooks are lacking,” said Rosa Soto-Thomas, President of AFT Local St. Croix, USVI.

“Much of the after-school funding that much of the other states have received has been cut off from the Virgin Islands,” Plaskett said.

The timing of when any additional funding could come is really unknown. The U.S. House only has two weeks left on their legislative calendar before the election, although some sources tell USVI News the House could break session at the end of this week.

Plaskett hopes the funding will be appropriated by the end of 2018, but the limited calendar could push that vote into 2019.