Cardona, who is of Puerto Rican origin, said teachers should be treated with “respect and dignity.”
Although Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced on Monday the temporary teacher salary increase with federal funds, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona confirmed that it was actually the federal agency’s idea to tap into the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).
Cardona said that he was in communication with Pierluisi’s office and the local Department of Education for 48 hours as a result of the teacher protests on the island. On Monday, Pierluisi announced teachers on the island will receive a raise of $1,000 per month.
Teachers have been fighting for higher wages and a pension for weeks, as many of them struggle to make ends meet earning just $1,800 per month. Teacher Pablo Mas Oquendo, who recently died in a car accident while traveling between his three jobs, has come to symbolize teachers’ struggles.
“Teachers throughout Puerto Rico have faced several challenges, and we must treat them with respect and dignity. This means giving them higher wages, so they don’t live from one fortnight to another,” Cardona said in a statement. “It also means giving them the high-quality professional development and supportive working conditions they need in the midst of the pandemic. Our educators have been there to support our children, we must be there for them.”
Pierluisi pointed out that this is a temporary solution since the increase will be made with federal ESSER funds, which will be available until September 2024, and that the government will need to identify necessary local funds so that the salary increase can be made permanent.
Despite the increase, the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico announced Monday that the massive protest scheduled for Wednesday is still going on, as they plan to continue fighting for their retirement.
“Until we see it, we don’t believe it. Now we want our dignified retirement, which is the most important thing. Let’s not lower it. Let’s go strong and united!” the Federation said.