Two Long Island congressmen are sponsoring a bill to reimburse public schools up to $12,000 per student for educating immigrant children who crossed the United States' southern border illegally in a surge of unaccompanied minors.
The proposal comes as the Office of Refugee Resettlement disclosed an increase in the number of those children released to relatives and sponsors on Long Island, rising by 231 since July to 2,508 at the end of last month -- with 1,301 living in Suffolk and 1,207 in Nassau.
Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Peter King (R-Seaford) are co-sponsoring the Public School Emergency Relief Act to give "temporary emergency impact aid" of up to $12,000 per child to help districts cope with added costs from the children who fled violence and poverty in Central America.
"The federal government should address the issue of children at the border, but they shouldn't leave local school districts stuck with the bill," Israel said Monday. "We learned that in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the federal government reimbursed school districts for the cost of placing students that fled . . . We are using the same common-sense approach."
Under the measure, introduced Thursday by Israel, school districts would request quarterly disbursements for each immigrant child registered since the 2012-13 school year.
Long Island's newcomers are part of an influx of 4,799 unaccompanied minors to New York this year, and of 43,419 of those children released nationally by the end of August.
King, in a statement, said that because the increase in students "is a result of failed federal policy," the responsibility "should fall on the federal government and not the Long Island taxpayer."
The bipartisan proposal was praised by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican.
Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez, a Democrat and a former assistant principal in Brentwood, said those dollars are sorely needed. "We definitely have an influx of children and the class sizes are going to increase," said Martinez, adding the children are at "no fault" and "deserve an education."
Local school superintendents, attending a Fall Leadership Summit in upstate Saratoga Springs Monday, praised the effort. They liked that the bill would dole out funds for all increases to immigrant student enrollment and that the funds would be in addition to state aid.
"It absolutely would be a welcome change," said Kishore Kuncham, superintendent in Freeport, where out of 180 new students this year, 136 are immigrants and at least 32 came as unaccompanied minors. "Any funding that comes along to support these youngsters, especially while we are on a tax cap, would be tremendously helpful" for English-learners.
Central Islip Superintendent Craig G. Carr said he is hopeful the bill could advance. "It is imperative that our school district and districts across Long Island and the country receive equitable funding for this emergency situation," he said.