More than 8,500 students from Puerto Rico and other areas slammed by Hurricane Maria have enrolled in Florida’s public schools.
As of Tuesday — 10 full weeks after the hurricane made landfall on Puerto Rico — 7,756 students from the island and 758 from elsewhere in the Caribbean have made their way to K-12 schools in the state.
They’ve settled in schools in 41 of the state’s 67 counties, but most have clustered around Orlando and in other Central Florida districts, according to data provided by the state’s Department of Education.
New students who evacuated areas affected by Hurricane Maria, by district
Data from the Florida Department of Education. New student counts as of Tuesday, Nov. 28. Percent changes based on preliminary fall 2017 enrollment counts.
Orange County has taken in 2,251 students, more than any other district. In that county, that’s enough to fill 3 average-sized elementary schools or three-quarters of an average-sized high school.
And the I-4 counties — Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia — are handling 61 percent of the evacuated students. (They normally account for just 25 percent of Florida’s student population.)
In some districts, that can cause a strain on resources. At a state Board of Education meeting Tuesday, board member Gary Chartrand wondered if Orange County had the resources to handle all its new students.
“That’s like three schools,” Chartrand said.
In October, the DOE announced that any district that saw enrollment grow by five percent or more because of the hurricane would get extra funding to cover the new students.
That turned out to be a safe bet, as no district (so far at least) is remotely close to that benchmark. Osceola County is the district where evacuees make up the greatest percentage increase in the overall student body, and it’s bump is only about 2 percent.
In Tampa Bay, the new students represent a much smaller share. Hillsborough’s 536 new students grew the schools population by a quarter of a percent. In Pinellas, 143 students arrived (0.14 percent growth). Pasco took in 139, and Hernando took in 43 (0.19 percent each).
Florida Virtual School — which provides public online-only education — planned in October to accept 20,000 students affected by the hurricane. So far, just 313 students are enrolled, according to the state.
Overall, the number of evacuees in Florida’s schools keeps climbing. On Nov. 21, the total was 7,212 -- meaning some 1,300 students had enrolled in the past week.
“We do anticipate that there will be more students that will be coming as individuals are able to leave Puerto Rico,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Chairwoman Marva Johnson called the effort “no small undertaking.”