Connecticut schools face funding issues for students displaced by Hurricane Maria

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Hector Rivera, 8, Mario Jordan Micael, 3, and Ramon Montes, 5, participate in a rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ellis Rua)

School district officials and legislators have been deliberating over plans in regards to funding to reimburse school districts and cover future expenses for displaced students, mostly from Puerto Rico, who have enrolled in Connecticut schools as a result of Hurricane Maria, according to the University of Connecticut’s Journalism Roundup.

In 2017, 2,043 displaced students enrolled in Connecticut schools. As of June 2018, 1,734 remain, according to Kathleen Megan of the Hartford Courant.

The Department of Education plans to give $10.6 million to CT schools to divide among 47 districts, according to Shyang Puri of NBC Connecticut. The money is intended to pay districts back for expenses incurred over the last year, Madeline Negron, chief of academic, teaching, learning and student supports in Hartford Public schools, said.

“It is important to understand that the $10.6 million is a one-time grant awarded to the State of Connecticut to reimburse districts for the expenses incurred during the 2017-2018 academic year for students who entered the district as a result of being displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria, or the 2017 California Wildfires,” Negron said, “It is my strong opinion that the monies that were spent to adequately support the displaced students by the hurricanes far exceeds the reimbursement that they will be getting as part of the emergency impact aid.”

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have said the amount is not enough, according to NBC.

Much of the money will be dedicated to Hartford, a district which has taken in 450 displaced students. The district will be given more than $2 million, after having already spent more than $3 million on resources, Puri said. Hartford Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said that the issue is not only the need for teachers, but for transportation as well, according to NBC.

The need for teachers remains high, however. Liz Howard, associate professor of bilingual education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Connecticut, said that Connecticut has a continuing problem with a lack of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers.

“One major issue is the fact that many of the students are Spanish-dominant or Spanish monolingual, which means that they are likely classified as English learners and therefore require specialized instruction from certified teachers, along with ongoing monitoring,” Howard said. “However, CT has a chronic shortage of TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] and bilingual teachers, so there weren’t enough of these teachers to begin with, much less now that there are even more students in the state that require bilingual/ESL instruction.”

Negron added that there are other needs that have not been taken into consideration by the government when addressing the issue.

“In my opinion, this formula considered the academic needs of students but did not consider the social-emotional needs that districts would have to address in these children who had just experienced a traumatic event in their lives,” Negron said. “In addition, the federal government needs to consider that the students are still here and their needs have not disappeared by the simple fact that they’ve been with us now for almost a year.”

The state of Connecticut faced the crisis directly and in a timely manner last year, Peter Yazbak, Director of Communications at the Connecticut Department of Education, said.

“Over the last year since Hurricane Maria, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) collaborated with local education agencies (LEAs) to ensure immediate school access, school stability and academic success for all students displaced by disasters, including all students experiencing homelessness as defined under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act,” Yazbak said. “As children and families began arriving in Connecticut, LEAs responded immediately by enrolling students and addressing their needs. These efforts not only provided access back to the classroom for thousands of children and youth, but also provided needed assistance for children and families in addressing the trauma that they encountered.”

The state remains dedicated to addressing the needs of the displaced students, their families and the districts in which they are now attending school, Yazbak said.

“On April 27, 2018, the United States Department of Education (USDE) announced the release of applications and instructions for hurricane and disaster relief funding authorized by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018: the Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students (Emergency Impact Aid) program and Assistance for Homeless Children and Youth program,” Yazbak said. “The CSDE is currently in the process of distributing the Emergency Impact Aid in alignment with applicable timelines and program requirements. The CSDE will continue to support LEAs’ efforts on behalf of all students experiencing homelessness via the strengthening of local McKinney-Vento plans developed in alignment with the Connecticut’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan.”

Additionally, $400,000 was given to the Department of Education for Bilingual Education to be distributed among the six districts most affected by the crisis, Yazbak said.

The hurricane has had lasting effects in several communities, according to La Voz, a publication through the university’s El Instituto, the Institute of Latino/a, Caribbean and Latin American Studies. A report, written by Carlos Vargas Ramos of Hunter College and Charles Venator-Santiago of El Instituto at UConn, in their Fall 2018 issue covered the impact of Puerto Rican displacement on households in Hartford. The report states that one quarter of Puerto Rican survey respondents in Hartford are harboring displaced family and friends, one third of whom are unsure of how long they will remain in Connecticut.

“Survey respondents identify housing issues and insufficient food as the most critical needs they are facing in Connecticut, along with healthcare, in the aftermath of the crisis,” Ramos and Santiago wrote. “These needs are adding a heavy responsibility on an already over-extended and resource-limited Puerto Rican community in Connecticut, given the extreme levels of need that are present in the community and pre-dated the crisis created by hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

Howard suggested taking advantage of the skills brought to Connecticut by teachers displaced from Puerto Rico, alongside the students.

“If the state is not already doing this, one thing that it could do to help remedy this situation is to facilitate CT teacher certification – at least on a provisional/emergency basis, and ideally leading to permanent certification for those who stay – for teachers from Puerto Rico who have also resettled in CT,” Howard said. “In other words, capitalize on the teaching experience, cultural knowledge and language skills of these teachers, and bring them into the schools to help support the students and their families.”


Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at miranda.r.garcia@uconn.edu.

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