Some of the unaccompanied minors who arrived in the United States this year and now attend Central Islip schools got a visit Monday from Rep. Peter King, who vowed again to press for federal funding to help schools with the added expense of the extra students.
King (R-Seaford), facing an election challenge from Democrat Patricia Maher, said he visited Central Islip Senior High School and Mulligan Middle School, which are in his 2nd Congressional District, because he wanted "to see firsthand" how schools are affected by the influx of children that have resettled on Long Island after illegally crossing the border into the United States.
More than 2,500 of the children have been released to relatives or guardians in Nassau and Suffolk counties this year.
King told a ninth-grade class packed with 37 students that he was there to learn about the challenges they face and offer help.
"I know there's a variety of issues that you might have, as far as language" and other needs, he told one class.
A few students, answering his queries, spoke in Spanish, saying they want more English classes, scholarships and better soccer fields. Most raised their hands to indicate that they want more than three periods of language instruction.
King is co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) that seeks temporary aid of up to $12,000 per immigrant child enrolled since the 2012-13 year. The number of unaccompanied minors, coming mostly from Central America, spiked nationally from nearly 25,000 in 2013 to more than 43,000 so far this year.
"Whatever opinions people have about the whole issue of immigration, undocumented immigrants, unaccompanied children, the fact is the responsibility should be with the federal government," said King, adding he'll "fight for" aid.
Maher, of East Meadow, characterized King's efforts as "a Band-Aid," saying she favors continuous aid to affected schools. "You can't just keep blaming the executive office when you've been voting against immigration reform for years and suddenly see the light because of the devastating effect it is having on immigrants, school districts and the economy," Maher said.
Central Islip Superintendent Craig Carr said he is trying to get attention for the needs of the district, which has seen an increase of nearly 200 students this year -- about 110 of them recent arrivals in the U.S. The district had about 6,400 students in grades K-12 in 2012-13, the latest figures available from the state Education Department.
Bilingual classes at the intermediate-to-secondary level have 30 to 40 students, the superintendent said. "We prepared a budget anticipating a certain number of students, and now we have many more," Carr said. "The budget is limited and so we really need to have relief."