Florida Is Not Ready For Influx Of Puerto Rican Students

Our new neighbors are not here on vacation, they are here to stay and make new lives for themselves, and the impact they will have on Florida is just beginning.

By Ed Young

When Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, we could not predict the impact it would have not only on the small island but on the State of Florida as well.

In the weeks that followed, we have witnessed an unprecedented mass migration from the island to Florida, as thousands of families abandoned a home they’ve had for generations.

In addition to the huge impact they will have on Florida’s economy, culture, and political structure, there is something else to consider that is much more pertinent and pressing at the moment: the impact they will have on Florida’s public schools.

While we welcome our residents with open arms to help and aide them as they adjust to their new homes; this couldn’t have come at a worse time for our schools.

Why you may ask? The answer is FTE, ESOL, and ESE.

For most readers, these acronyms mean nothing but in the world of public education, they
mean funding and support. FTE stands for “Full-Time Equivalent,” or in simpler term, how many students does a school have? To be counted in a school’s population for funding, they must be enrolled in the school and attend at least one day of classes during the time period the FTE data is being collected.

ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) and ESE (Exceptional Student Education), sometimes referred to as “Special Education”, are designations designed to identify students needing additional services and support which translates to additional funding to provide said services.

The support and services these programs provide are designed and implemented to help students overcome that which is impeding their education, and put them on equal footing with all other students.

ESOL services focus on helping students while they learn a new language and adjust to a new culture different from that of their country of origin. ESE services address an entire range of services which can included but not limited to physical impairments, congenital disorders, learning disabilities, social and emotional skills.

Rather apropos, FTE ended on Friday the 13th of last month. With this closing date also went any possible funds for incoming students the state may receive from now until the next time FTE occurs in mid-February of 2018.

Until then, Florida’s Public Schools will be expected, mandated, and required to provide full support and resources to the students and their families without any additional funds to do so.

Not only are there no funds for these new incoming students but many of them due to the damage caused by Maria, have no academic or medical records to provide to the school districts they are entering.

This again will become an unfunded mandate to local school districts where they must place the student, test the student, and provide all services without appropriate funding, which means other services and programs may have to be cut just to provide the base support these students need.

As if this were not enough, due to current state laws many of these students will not receive Support Services they need because they cannot be treated as a foreign language speaker, and learning disabled at the same time. You heard correctly. Under current law, when a student is classified as ESOL they cannot receive ESE services and funding at the same time.

Sadly, this punishes many students who not only are struggling to learn a language and how to adjust to a new culture, but may also severely handicapped because of a learning disability that is not being addressed, and not having funding provided for until they “exit” the ESOL program and are mainstreamed into general population.

Only after all this, can they then be tested and diagnosed with a learning disability and begin to receive support and services per state law.

In the wake of the influx of new students and the review of both current ESOL and ese programs and laws, it’s time for the governor and the state legislature to become proactive and address this before the damage is irreversible to not only our school districts, but more importantly to our students’ futures.

To do so, the following should take place:

1. Authorize an addendum to the October FTE count that must be completed on or before
December 31, 2017.

2. Pass legislation that requires eligible students to receive full funding, support, and services concurrently from both ESOL and ESE.

3. Enacted new oversight rules to ensure that a minimum of 85% of ESOL and ESE state/federal funds are actually reaching students at the school-level and not being spent at the county level for administrative pet projects.

4. Reaffirm and mandate that the Class Size Amendment is to be kept at the classroom level and not the average class size per the school level. This will allow the ESOL and ESE classes to be kept at the smaller size which is necessary to provide the proper support and facilitation to these students.

5. Provide fully funded training for faculty, staff administration, and support personnel in ESOL services and needs. Additionally, provide, for a limited time, full reimbursement to any educator that adds the ESOL certification or endorsement to their teaching certificate.

6. Ensure that proper support is available to ESOL students the form of transition services along with counseling as they make the transition to this new chapter in their lives.
Politicians and educational leaders for once are in agreement that this is a unique and unprecedented situation that Florida finds itself in, it is a situation that we can successfully face and solve. 

Our new neighbors are not here on vacation, they are here to stay and make new lives for themselves and the impact they will have on Florida is just beginning. Academically, as far as our schools go, this is the New World Order and the time to address it is now.


Ed Young holds a Masters in Education from Stetson University and a Florida teacher certificate in English, Social Studies, ESOL, Exception Student Education, Reading, Middle Grades Integrated Curriculum, and Educational Leadership. He has worked in public and private schools in Central Florida for the last fourteen years. His professional focus is working with learning disabled kids as well as students considered high risk. He is a longtime Seminole County resident, financial conservative, and advocate for conserving Florida’s natural resources. He serves as an elected Supervisor for the Seminole County Soil & Water Conservation District where he represents Group 4 and currently serves as their treasurer.