Osceola, Orange school districts worried about costs of student influx from Puerto Rico

By: Michael Lopardi

Updated:

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Schools in Orange and Osceola counties are already preparing for an influx of new students to arrive from Puerto Rico. 

Inside Maria Rodriguez’s classroom at Boggy Creek Elementary, the students are learning math.

But for them, the situation in Puerto Rico is about more than numbers. 

Read: Puerto Ricans could flee to Central Florida, state rep says

“This is something like devastating for us,” said Rodriguez, a fifth-grade teacher. 

About half of the students in her class are from the island, and so is she. 

Photos: Puerto Ricans rescued from flooding

“It's very hard to be here thinking about the people that we love in Puerto Rico,” she said. 

Osceola County is now preparing for the possibility that hundreds of students will flee Puerto Rico and enroll in local schools. 

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“We're welcoming the students that are coming in, the families that are coming into our family and we see that as an opportunity,” said Kelvin Soto, Osceola County School Board Chairman. 

But Soto said he’s also concerned about covering the costs. The state provides funding based on the total number of students. 

If kids arrive after October’s count is done, the district could miss out on some money—so the county now plans to ask for the option of doing a second count later in the fall. 

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott said he would try to help districts any way he could. 

“If there's something that needs to be waived, if there's a new resource that you need, I'll work on it,” said Scott.

But back in the classroom, Rodriguez is preparing for a wave of new students, while still comforting others with family on the island. 

Orange County Public Schools said it has ways to speed up the enrollment process if it receives a surge of new students. 

There’s no hard estimate on how many may come, but Osceola County received about 700 students from Puerto Rico during the financial crisis. 

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