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Research Questions

  1. What was the state of Puerto Rico's education system before the hurricanes?
  2. What were the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico's Education sector, including its consequences on early-childhood services, K–12 education, and postsecondary education?
  3. What were determined to be the key themes for recovery in the Education sector and which COAs support those themes?

The government of Puerto Rico developed a plan to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, build resilience to withstand future disasters, and restore the struggling economy. The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC), operated by RAND Corporation under contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with the development of the plan.

Acting in support of FEMA's Education sector, HSOAC analyzed data sources to conduct an assessment of the damage and recovery needs, and engaged with stakeholders to identify recovery courses of action, costs, and possible funding mechanisms. Education system reforms initiated prior to the hurricanes and poststorm legislation set the strategy for the recovery actions.

This report details prestorm conditions, assesses the damage and recovery needs, and describes the courses of action represented in the recovery plan for the Education sector. The analyses, coupled with discussions with local education stakeholders and subject-matter experts, informed the development of 13 courses of action to support Puerto Rico's recovery plan and efforts to transform the education system. The courses of action cover four major themes related to Education sector recovery: rebuilding, repairing, and upgrading infrastructure; strengthening and supporting the government's K–12 system reform; expanding and improving out-of-school and preschool learning opportunities; and increasing access to vocational, technical, and career education and strengthening school-to-work transitions.

Key Findings

Puerto Rico's education system faced many important challenges before the hurricanes

  • Enrollment in public schools in Puerto Rico had been declining for several decades.
  • Puerto Rico's education system maintained a high concentration of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.
  • Puerto Rico's K–12 public school system had also faced long-standing concerns about lagging student performance and high school graduation rates.
  • The Puerto Rico education system has been facing financial strains due to several factors, including spending on additional services for students from low-income households and students with disabilities.

The hurricanes emphasized and worsened existing problems

  • The hurricanes caused extensive damage to education infrastructure.
  • Declines in school enrollment were accelerated by the storms.
  • Schools faced extensive closures and, after reopening, limited functionality.
  • Schools also faced extensive transportation issues.

The COAs developed to support the recovery plan can be grouped according to four themes

  • The first step in recovery involves rebuilding, repairing, and upgrading school infrastructure.
  • Several COAs can support the extensive transformation of Puerto Rico's educational system initiated by the government before the storms.
  • Expanding existing and implementing new out-of-school learning opportunities can help address potential learning loss caused by prolonged school closures.
  • Elements of the plan can increase access to vocational, technical, and career education and strengthen school-to-work transitions.


  • Identify and engage key partners.
  • Perform additional analysis, detailed planning, and necessary adjustments to implement COAs.
  • Update cost estimates.
  • Conduct ongoing monitoring and formative evaluation.
  • Consider dependencies with other courses of action.
  • Rebuild public pre-K–12 school infrastructure.
  • Consolidate and rebuild University of Puerto Rico infrastructure.
  • Conduct landscape analysis and rebuild private nonprofit pre-K–12 school infrastructure.
  • Improve longitudinal data system to support evidence-based policy.
  • Perform multisector analysis to support resource allocation decisions related to schools.
  • Conduct landscape analysis of early-childhood interventions and care opportunities.
  • Consider the implementation of a student-based budget system.
  • Strengthen school leadership pipeline.
  • Develop and implement teacher pipeline program.
  • Create new and enhance existing after-school and summer learning opportunities.
  • Expand and update K–12 vocational programs.
  • Augment tele-education/online education.
  • Develop and implement a parent education program on school choice.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Puerto Rico's Education Sector Before the Hurricanes

  • Chapter Three

    The Hurricanes' Effects on the Education Sector

  • Chapter Four

    Themes for Recovery and Courses of Action

  • Chapter Five


  • Appendix

    Courses of Action

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and conducted by the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program within Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.