Thousands of people enroll in Florida schools after Hurricane Maria; harboring a major problem



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LEESBURG – More than 7,200 Puerto Rican students enrolled in Florida's K-12 public schools and another 800 at state universities since Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, and education leaders said on Tuesday that the Affordable housing presents challenges for those who have been displaced.

"The common thread in all the discussions has been the housing," Lake-Sumter State College President Stanley Sidor told members of the State Board of Education, who traveled to Leesburg for their monthly meeting. [19659002] Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said that public schools have hired bus drivers, teachers and aides to handle the influx of students, focusing primarily on Central Florida and the Miami area. A total of 7,212 students uprooted from Puerto Rico and 710 from the US Virgin Islands. UU They are now in clbades in Florida.

"The universities have been working just like the K-12 system to make the enrollment process as easy as possible," Stewart said.

Osceola County saw the greatest impact with 1,218 new students, a 2.2 percent increase in enrollment since the beginning of the school year. Orange County has received 1,793 new students, an increase of 0.8 percent in the district's student body. Of them, 1,561 are Puerto Ricans. Those numbers are expected to increase.

"That's like three schools," said Gary Chartrand, a member of the State Board of Education, about the increase in Orange. "We have the facilities, and I guess they're all a second-language English, so you have an additional challenge for teachers who can teach English."

Stewart responded that there is enough space to accommodate the 0.2 percent increase in state enrollment. [19659002] "They have buildings that can be moved to some places and, yes, in almost all cases, there are ELL [English-language learner] students who add a challenge and … have been hiring," he said.

Chartrand said he was concerned if the districts had the resources to serve the new students.

The Central Florida School Boards Coalition, which represents Orange, Osceola and 11 other school districts, has asked lawmakers for financial aid to manage the students.

"I have been writing letters to the Legislature the governor and the education commissioner," Linda Kobert, a member of the Orange County School Board, told the Sentinel. "So far, we have had a zero response on funding."

Stewart said at the meeting that the federal government indicated there might be dollars available to help but had not yet provided details.

State officials also expect more displaced college students to take advantage of an enrollment offer in the state to increase next year. Tuition for Floridians is approximately $ 3,200 per semester compared to $ 11,200 for out-of-state residents.

"We anticipate that there will be more students coming as people can leave Puerto Rico," Stewart said. 19659002] Valencia College admitted 240 students, about 120 earlier this month, who left because of the hurricane. The University of Central Florida has admitted 242.

But Sidor and other education officials said finding adequate housing has been difficult for many.

"We hope to see some students sign up with us, but we all have the challenge of finding housing for them and their extended families," he said.

Even before Maria destroyed much of the island's infrastructure and sent thousands to Florida, the lack of affordable housing was in question in Central Florida.

Florida lawmakers have shifted more than $ 1 billion from the affordable housing trust fund to overall spending in the last decade. A national housing study published this spring ranked Metro Orlando as the third worst in the country for the housing of low-income residents.

"The doors are open, we welcome Puerto Rican students to our universities," said Sidor. "But we recognize that there is an infrastructure problem."

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