Schools: Funding needed for influx of students from Puerto Rico

State Sen. Jack Latvala says he will work toward solution

KISSIMMEE,Fla. – Representatives from Osceola and Orange County school districts met with state Sen. Jack Latvala with a plea for help.

Thousands of students have traveled to Central Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and school officials said they don't have the proper resources to cope with the influx.

“When you start talking about class size, the need for teachers and bilingual education, as well as social workers, (it adds up). These children and their families have been through stress, and we want to do everything we can to help them recover,” Osceola Superintendent Debra Pace said.

The districts said more than 3,000 students have enrolled over the past several weeks, stretching resources very thin.

An influx of 2,500 new students equals a need of $71.5 million in funding, officials said.

Right now, most of the students are unaccounted for when it comes to budgeting. Pace said that leads to a plethora of issues.

“It's going to take funding to hire the additional teachers, to hire the additional (paraprofessionals), to provide additional textbooks and bilingual resources, as well as the social work piece," she said.

Also, many of the students arrived in Central Florida without their parents, who stayed home to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The stress of losing both material and emotional support means the students will need more social-work services.

Students told News 6 that they have received a lot of help with supply drives and teacher support, but more is needed.

The districts are also concerned about guidelines for testing in English or Spanish, school grades and getting students who are behind up to speed.

Latvala said he will bring the issues to the Senate Appropriation Committee, with the intent to find solutions.