Reporter

Osceola County receives almost $5M for Hurricane Maria evacuee students

Osceola County School District received $5 million in federal funding last week to help offset the expense of taking in thousands of students from Puerto last year following Hurricane Maria.

The $5 million is part of a larger $46.8 million appropriation that will benefit 52 of Florida’s 67 school districts. Orange County received $12 million, the largest cut of the funding, cut Osceola received the second largest.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy spreadheaded the legislation, with support from Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) and U.S. Rep. Val Deenings (D-Orlando).

“I’m proud to have secured these federal investments in our young people, helping to support Florida school districts who did the right thing and took in students displaced by Hurricane Maria,” Murphy said in a statement Sept. 4.

Last year’s hurricanes — including Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — brought thousands of displaced students to Central Florida schools. Officials from school districts, including Osceola County, were happy to welcome the students, but the influx still put a major strain on already limited resources.

About 2,900 students enrolled in the Osceola County School District from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria, according to Dana Schafer, public information officer for the school district.

Of those, about 1,200 students re-enrolled when the new school year began last month.

According to Schafer, some of those costs included:

  • Additional teachers, social workers and ELL paraprofessionals
  • Guidance needs to support academic focus
  • Transportation costs
  • Textbooks and other instructional materials
  • School supplies, uniforms and Spanish/English dictionaries
  • Professional development and Spanish classes for employees
  • Welcome events at Orlando International Airport and Osceola Heritage Park
  • Evening events to support displaced families
  • Adult English and GED classes for parents
  • Summer enrichment camps for displaced students

The $5 million can’t be used for anything though, including new school construction or renovations. According to Schafer, the money can help pay for costs incurred prior to receipt of the grant, or to support regular classroom programs where displaced students participate.

The district received some money earlier this year through the state’s Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP). Which provided funding for students who were still in the district in February.

Federal funds were dispersed to Osceola County Sept. 7.