With scores of unaccompanied children landing in South Florida after streaming this year in unprecedented numbers across the U.S.-Mexican border, the Miami-Dade School Board warned Wednesday that an influx of needy children could create a financial crisis.
Board members agreed at the urging of Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to request more money from the federal government to handle what administrators say is a sudden spike of foreign-born children, including hundreds from violence-torn Honduras. Carvalho said the unexpected enrollment of migrant children is believed to be a part of a surge that the federal government has said will top 60,000 unaccompanied children this year, more than double last year’s number.
“We may be on the verge of a potential crisis,” Carvalho said. “We noticed a spike in the number of children, particularly of Honduran descent — close to 300 of them arriving in a matter of three months.”
Carvalho said educating these these students — often brought across the border by “coyotes,” or people-smugglers, while fleeing poverty and violence — costs on average about $2,000 more per child than what the state allocates in funding. Carvalho said the cost hits local taxpayers.
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He also said additional services like intensive language classes and homeless-support programs put a further strain on the school district’s coffers.
“We have data in our hands that suggest this is a trend that will actually grow, not subside,” Carvalho said. “Now is the time to seek from the federal government assistance for an issue that is and should be a federal concern.”
Carvalho said the district is working with the Chapman Partnership homeless shelter and the Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Miami-based social-service agency that helps immigrant children resettle in the United States after fleeing their home countries. AIJ executive director Cheryl Little told the Miami Herald that three months ago the agency “began increasing the number of beds in the Miami shelters, almost tripling the number of children who need legal assistance.”
The cost of teaching students who migrate to Miami-Dade has long been a public issue for the school district, where close to one in five students is from another country. Last year, at the request of School Board member and Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo, the district compiled a report on the cost of teaching immigrant students.
The report said roughly 1,000 immigrant students enrolled in Miami-Dade schools each month, and tagged the price of educating those children to local taxpayers at $22 million. Most students who come from other countries to South Florida do so under stable circumstances. But when students enter the country illegally, school systems like Miami-Dade’s are obligated to enroll them with few questions asked.
“As a public school system, the reality is there’s a financial cost to educating newly arrived students which goes above and beyond the typical [state] funding provided,” said School Board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman. She said it is only fair “that the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County aren’t unduly burdened as a result of federal immigration policies.”