Wednesday, July 8, 2020
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Mainland schools ready for Puerto Rican students

Even as President Donald Trump helped out the governor of Puerto Rico by temporarily suspending the Jones Act, some of the largest school districts in Florida, as well as school districts in New York and Chicago, are getting ready to accept an influx of students from the island, NPR reports.

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They’re eventually expected to come to the mainland to continue their school, because their island was devastated by Hurricane Maria about a week ago and they can’t return to school there.

But they’re not here yet. Why? Because Puerto Rico’s biggest airport in San Juan is barely operating. The Miami-Dade County and Orlando school districts are expecting the biggest surge.

“We are saddened to hear of the impact Hurricane Maria had on Puerto Rico and the difficulties many families are experiencing,” NPR quoted Lorena Hitchcock, spokeswoman for Orange County public schools in Orlando, as saying in an email. “We are prepared to respond to the needs of families in transition and support a continued education for students.”

Some processing will be handled automatically in Orlando, and some documentation requirements for new students are being waived in order to facilitate a smooth transition.

Puerto Rico’s children know the idea of relocation well, I’m sorry to say. The government announced in May that 179 schools were closing because of the territory’s $70 billion debt. Relocating about 27,000 students to other schools saved them about $7 million.

Suspending the Jones Act

Although the need for aid to reach Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria is great, aid has been slow to trickle in. That’s why some in the president’s administration thought lifting the Jones Act would help.

This law went into effect almost a hundred years ago and requires all goods ferried between US ports to be carried on ships built, owned, and operated (mostly) by Americans, CNN explains. A Japanese shipping company, for instance, can’t ship gas or emergency food rations between Maryland and Florida, because that would violate the Jones Act. It has to be shipped by an American shipping company.

The law was intended to help US companies, but it has the unintended consequence of forcing governments to rely on expensive US shipping companies when other options might be more affordable. It was most recently suspended after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and lifting it allowed gas to get from New Jersey to people in the South when the refineries in Texas had to be shut down.

But some logistics experts aren’t sure the plan will help in Puerto Rico.

“The pictures of miles-long lines at gas stations in Puerto Rico are very strong, but to blame the Jones Act for fuel shortages simply doesn’t fly,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Tom Kloza, chief analyst at Oil Price information Service, a data provider for refined oil products, as saying.

“For some days in serving Puerto Rico we have been searching for where we might need additional help in the supply chain and we haven’t identified anything related to the Jones Act,” added John Hourihan, the general manager of Puerto Rico services for Crowley Maritime Corp, a cargo shipping company based in Jacksonville, Florida.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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