Schools Brace for Flood of Immigrant Children

Marianela Toledo /

MIAMI—With thousands of Central American children newly arrived in the United States, and more expected to come, school officials have asked the federal government for a helping hand.

Immigrant kids cost about $1,900 more per pupil to educate. Teachers must be bilingual. The students will need health care and psychological services because many arrive sick and traumatized by things they’ve experienced.

Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, communications officer at the Miami-Dade County Public School, said until now the school district has relied on its emergency funds to help cover the costs.

“We are asking the federal government to help us with this additional cost,” she said. “We are here to help those children. We have a history of helping them, as we did when the earthquake hit Haiti, and when political problems arose in Cuba. We won’t stop providing them an education. But we don’t want the [local] taxpayer to pay for it. That’s why we are asking for federal funds.”

She said that just before the end of school in June, her district saw about 300 immigrant kids, coming from Honduras. She said the system won’t know how many more kids are coming from Central America this year until shortly before the school year begins.

The Palm Beach County School District has yet to see an uptick in border kids enrolling, but it won’t be caught off guard if this happens. It absorbed hundreds of children after the Haiti earthquake.

But at the Guatemalan Mayan Center, a Lake Worth, Fla.-based community organization that offers assistance and language classes to immigrants, a class to help children learn English before they enter American schools has grown from three students last year to 50 this year, according to Micaela Marti, a volunteer.

In Pasco County, shelters expect to double their capacity.

And in Brevard County, the Children’s Home Society of Florida confirmed that some unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border of the U.S. will be sent to local foster homes in the state next month.