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Forbes’ Analysis of Impact of Influx of Puerto Rican Students Reflects Understanding of Expanded Mission of Public Schools

July 4, 2018

Several months ago Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and the infrastructure of the island. As a result, thousands of parents and students moved into the United States, flooding cities and regions with established Puerto Rican residents. A recent Forbes article by Maria Amante described the impact of this in-migration on the districts affected by influx of students. In doing so, Ms. Amante acknowledged that the the nation’s public schools are underfunded and are expected to take on responsibility for far more than education. In describing the funding situation, Ms. Amante matter-of-factly writes:

The (in-migration) has put a strain on school district resources, at least over the near term. Public schools are notoriously underfunded, and public investment in K-12 has declined in the majority of states in the last decade, according to a 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

And in her description of the strain placed on schools, she writes:

School districts have multiple responsibilities. Not only are they entrusted with a child’s education, but to be successful in that task, they must also address a child’s health and welfare.Hurricane Maria thrust multiple traumas on the Puerto Rican students: not only did they live through a Category 4 hurricane, many saw their homes destroyed and were forced to relocate to a new, unfamiliar environment.

Our students have come with very similar experiences to refugee populations. The only thing they’d come with is the clothes on their back,” said Nadia Nashir, assistant superintendent of multilingual education at Buffalo Public Schools, where nearly 500 students from Puerto Rico relocated.

Almost nine months after Hurricane Maria, the migration continues. And classrooms and communities continue to welcome evacuees with open arms.

I was encouraged to see a mainstream publication like Forbes acknowledge that public schools are “notoriously underfunded” and are expected to take on the “health and welfare” of children as well as their education. This matter-of-fact statement could lay the groundwork for more funding for schools and the social services they partner with in an effort to support children.

I was also struck with the parallels between the de facto refugees and the many impoverished school children across our country who move from school to school and district to district because their parents are unable to afford housing. Like the Puerto Rican children, they often come to school with only the “clothes on their backs” and are constantly forced to “relocate to a new unfamiliar environment”. And, like the Puerto Rican children who survived Hurricane Maria, they are victims of education offered in schools that are “notoriously underfunded“, students who will never be helped by choices since their parents are homeless.

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