Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Politics

Florida schools will take Puerto Rico students. But who will pay?

TALLAHASSEE — Families from Puerto Rico who were displaced by Hurricane Maria won't have to worry about having transcripts or immunization records if they enroll their children in Florida's public schools this month, state education officials announced Friday.

But for county school districts, there's no guarantee the state will provide financial help to cover the costs of all those additional students.

The Florida Department of Education announced Friday public schools would get extra funding this fall only if they take in a set number of displaced Puerto Rican children — enough to increase district enrollment by at least 5 percent or a single school's enrollment by at least 25 percent.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the state's largest school district, with about 353,000 students enrolled last spring — would have to take in nearly 17,700 students from Puerto Rico to trigger the extra funding.

Hillsborough County Public Schools — the state's third largest school district, with about 211,000 students enrolled last school year — would have to take in nearly 10,500 students.

The state Department of Education did not answer questions from the Times/Herald by Friday evening about how it arrived at that formula and why funding wouldn't be assured to cover all new students.

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, told the Times/Herald that he told DOE officials "that we're going to have individual schools that are going to get clobbered by this."

He wondered what would happen if a school with 800 students got 175 or 195 new students, just below the 200 needed to trigger the extra money.

"They get nothing?" Diaz said.

Diaz said he urged DOE to look at enrollment issues on a school-by-school basis. He said officials are considering his recommendations.

"They're trying to find a place where they're not breaking the bank but where they're also providing what schools should get," he said.

Rep. Bob Cortes — an Altamonte Springs Republican of Puerto Rican descent — said he asked state education officials "for full funding, not formula based." He said he also wanted clarification from DOE that its orders apply to "all disaster victims, including Irma and Harvey. Not just Maria."

Cortes said Osceola County, which has a high Puerto Rican population, enrolled 165 new students just this week.

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's order Friday granted certain waivers to school districts through Nov. 1 to help reduce the red-tape of enrolling displaced Puerto Rican students. It also made it easier for teachers from Puerto Rico to be hired here without documentation of their professional certification.

Not addressed in the order: The part of a request by Diaz, Cortes and other lawmakers earlier this week that called for public schools to be assured extra state money to cover the potential uptick in enrollment.

After Maria, the Hillsborough School District has accepted 19 students from Puerto Rico and nine from the U.S. Virgin Islands so far, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

"We don't know whether more students will be coming to Hillsborough County Public Schools because as we understand, many families are still trying to get off the island," she said.

She added that since lawmakers return to Tallahassee next week to begin committee hearings before the 2018 session, "we expect legislators will be discussing whether this new guidance will meet the needs of this current situation."

Legislators and school administrators had asked the DOE to make sure the new students would be counted in the annual fall enrollment survey, which is critical to calculating how much state money schools receive during the school year to fund their operations.

But in its memo, the DOE said that survey would serve as a baseline and additional Puerto Rican students enrolled after that time would be counted in a special "alternate survey" afterward — sometime before mid-December.

Diaz said DOE officials didn't specifically explain to him where the 5 percent and 25 percent benchmarks came from. He said he deduced they have to do with the timing of the enrollment survey, since the additional students wouldn't have been served in the first half of the fall semester.

Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark

Comments
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18
Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

You would have thought the controversy over whether chickens should be left alone to keep boldly roaming the streets of historic Ybor City — and the impressive pro-chicken lobby that showed up to argue on their behalf — would be the quintessential on...
Published: 09/15/18

5 takeaways from Paul Manafort’s plea agreement

Five takeawaysWASHINGTON — Paul Manafort’s agreement to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel marks a milestone in the investigation led by Robert Mueller. Here are several key elements:Mueller knows more than we doThe public doesn’t kn...
Published: 09/14/18
Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

CLEARWATER — Residents can hear varying perspectives on the Nov. 6 referendum on whether to change Clearwater’s form of government into a strong mayor system at two upcoming forums.The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a forum Monday ...
Published: 09/13/18
Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

BROOKSVILLE — Valerie Surette, the woman at the heart of prostitution-related charges against former Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, told Sheriff’s Office detectives in March that he frequently talked to her about county business. In a r...
Published: 09/12/18