WASHINGTON – D.C. Public Schools are facing an influx of new immigrant students this year. The surge seen in schools nationwide appears to coincide with the rise in children crossing the United States border.
Most of these kids don’t speak English putting additional demands on local schools. So D.C. has created a school within a school for this growing immigrant population.
Inside the Cardozo Education Campus is the newly-created International Academy. It has 155 students — kids who speak little if any English. Most are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who have arrived over the past three to ten months.
“Definitely if you overlay that with the crisis we’ve been hearing about at the border, you can connect the dots back to Central America,” said Lori Kaplan, President and CEOof the Latin American Youth Center which works with D.C. students. “There’s a clear pathway and those are who the kids are.”
D.C. Public Schools launched the school this year at a cost of $100,000. That doesn’t include the 12 teachers, two counselors, an instructional aide and administration, which school officials say would be needed regardless. There is no additional money from the federal government to cover the cost.
“It’s certainly fair to say it’s probably going to cost you more to teach the English language learners than the average student,” said Neal McClusky, an education analyst with the Cato Institute.
He says it is too early to say if schools will be able to absorb the costs or if it will come at the expense of other programs.
It is local and state taxpayers who foot the bill. Across the region from Maryland to Virginia, a number of school districts report a large increase in new immigrant students.
Parents in Loudoun County have raised concerns about vaccinations. In Fairfax County, one supervisor is calling for more information on the expense of educating these students, saying it could be costly to the county.
“Essentially what the federal government says is look, we run immigration policy, but once they’re here, your school districts are responsible for educating them whatever that price is and we the federal government don’t have to cover that cost,” said McClusky.
School districts have no choice but to enroll children regardless of immigration status. They are not allowed to ask, which is why pinpointing the exact number connected to the border crisis is so difficult.
D.C. school officials say they have budgeted for the influx of students which began last year. The District doesn’t see these students as a burden. They are just like other kids.
“I think the return on investment in education far outweighs what the cost to society could be to close the door to young people to what we know they need,” Kaplan said.
At Cardozo, the newly-arrived students seem to be fitting in despite the language barrier.
“I know a little bit of Spanish a little bit,” said 18-year old Cardozo student Collis Hunter. “They’re cool. They play soccer, basketball. They’re cool kids.”
The International Academy is modeled after a similar program at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.
D.C. also has another specialized school for non-English speaking students at the Columbia Heights Education Campus. It has the District’s largest population of English language learners. According to District officials, the school has also seen a significant increase in enrollment from new immigrant students.