The expected influx of Puerto Rican evacuees coming to Florida will likely include a large number of school-aged children. A group of state lawmakers is asking state education leaders for help in accommodating the additional students who will likely enroll in Florida’s public schools.
In a letter sent to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Monday, the lawmakers ask that any increase in enrollment be factored into the school funding formula so that schools are provided with additional resourses to accommodate any increase in students.
The group of legislators is also asking the state to grant local schools flexibility in accepting children whose families have to decided to leave Puerto Rico.
They say that because of the destruction caused to their homeland, many Puerto Rican families who chose to come to Florida might not have ready access to their children’s school transcripts, as well as their immunization records or birth certificates. They say that’s why they are asking local schools be afforded flexibility in admitting students who don’t have the required documentation.
The group is also asking state education officials to expedite the certification process for teachers who might also choose to evacuate Puerto Rico and look for teaching positions here in Florida.
The lawmakers are also asking that classroom size requirements be waived so that schools won’t be penalized for the addition of more students in public schools.
“It is extremely important for Florida to be prepared for a large number of evacuees from Puerto Rico,” said Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. “So many Puerto Rican families have literally lost everything, and we must stand ready to do everything possible to help their children transition as seamlessly as possible to a new school and learning environment.”
Cortes is one of five House Republicans to sign the letter. The other four include Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud, Rene Plasencia of Orlando and David Santiago of Deltona.
Diaz is the is the education budget chair in the House.
“It is impossible to overstate the impacts of these storms (Maria and Irma) on Puerto Rico,” said Diaz. “Students and teachers are unable to access records, and it could be many months before schools are able to reopen. We believe the actions we are requesting will allow Florida schools to be ready to embrace the students who will be coming here with their families to start over.”