City Must Educate Displaced Children Taken Under Wing

New York officials threw open the state’s doors to families displaced by the horrific hurricanes and wildfires.

Now, those same officials had better open the state’s checkbook a little wider, too. We say a little wider because the state Education Department did announce $15.9 million in grants to 185 school districts statewide to help pay costs associated with 3,000 children who attended New York schools after being displaced by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and the 2017 California wildfires. The Dunkirk City School District took in 47 displaced students and received $255,625 from the state while the Jamestown Public Schools District accepted 20 displaced students and received $93,625 from the state.

It sounds great, until one talks to a school superintendent and realizes the state grant is really just a drop in the bucket — particularly if the state money is a one-time grant.

Jamestown, for example, will have to educate those 20 children until they graduate. A district that already has had a history of English Language Learners now has more ELL students to educate and no guarantee of having the money to hire the staff that may be necessary to do so. As Apthorpe said, a one-time $93,000 grant doesn’t pay for one ELL teacher for one year.

The state was right to take in the displaced students. Now, it has to educate those students. It will likely take additional one-on-one teaching time to help many of these students get on track academically — and that will come at a cost to the state, particularly in the case of Jamestown which simply doesn’t have the local tax base to add teachers on its own. No one can argue the state did the wrong thing accepting the displaced students. Doing the right thing becomes more complicated when there are already too many schools eating up too much money.

In the short term, the state should make yearly allocations to the districts that are educating displaced students. In the long term, the state must right-size education in New York state so that taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollar.