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Federal funds to be sent for education of immigrant kids

New York Communities for Change speak on Nov.

New York Communities for Change speak on Nov. 12, 2014, outside 100 Main St., the building where the Hempstead school district has a "transition school" largely for Hispanic immigrant students recently arrived in the U.S. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Federal dollars are on the way to schools affected by the recent influx of immigrant children who crossed the border as unaccompanied minors as the U.S. Department of Education prepares to release supplemental funds to these districts, according to an agency memorandum obtained by Newsday.

The department expects to issue $14 million, out of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, to education departments in states that "experienced a significant increase in the number of immigrant kids and youth enrolled" in 2014, according to agency guidelines.

Nassau and Suffolk counties received more than 3,000 of those children in a 12-month period ending in September 2014.

The help was welcomed by advocates who just a week ago called for more aid in Hempstead, a district that had been under investigation for turning away immigrants. The school board recently agreed to fix enrollment issues and be placed under monitoring by the state attorney general's office.

"It's a great step forward" to see the federal government respond "but now equally as important would be the commitment of state government to match that investment and to make sure that those dollars reach down to the school districts that need it," said Marcus Bright, of Education for a Better America, an advocacy group in Manhattan.

The federal grants are to be used "for supplemental academic and nonacademic services and supports to immigrant children and youth" such as family literacy programs and hiring teacher aides.

The aid won't signify a windfall, though. The funds will have to be shared with multiple states, and then subdivided for school districts that can prove they experienced a recent spike in immigrant students.

The federal Education Department has determined that 35 states -- including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut -- qualify for funds, and the amount each receives will be proportionate to their share of unaccompanied minors. New York was second only to Texas in the number of resettled children, with 5,956 minors sent here in the 2014 federal fiscal year.

The New York State Education Department "will study the matter closely," said spokesman Tom Dunn. He said the state's Board of Regents, which sets education policy, asked for $40 million in the state budget "to support schools and districts with increases in enrollment," including English-language learners.

Raymonde Charles, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman, said districts also may be able to access funds from other programs for language-learners and educationally disadvantaged children. Most recent arrivals are boys and girls who came illegally from Central America as they fled poverty, crime and violence there.

Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of the Freeport schools, where about 80 unaccompanied minors added to soaring enrollment, said while attention to the issue was encouraging, the money was too little, too late.

"The federal government has been pretty callous, in my opinion, if after seven or eight months, they have made such a small allocation and there's no guarantee this will be on an ongoing basis," Kuncham said.

E. Reginald Pope, an activist with the Nassau County Chapter of the National Action Network that co-organized the Hempstead rally for more funds, said even if aid was "a drop in the bucket," it signaled progress for affected areas.

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