December 19, 2017

Mass. schools absorb 2,000-plus students from Puerto Rico

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More than 2,000 students from Puerto Rico have arrived in Massachusetts schools after fleeing hurricane damage, acting state Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said yesterday.

Wulfson told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the pace of arrivals has accelerated in the last couple of weeks. Education officials are now looking to see if there will be a “considerable increase after the holidays, as many folks are expecting,” he said.

The education department’s unofficial count of students from Puerto Rico stood at 1,866 as of Dec. 8, and Wulfson said the latest tally has “passed the 2,000-student mark.”

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said in a mid-year budget update that it’s unknown how many Puerto Rican families are staying with friends and relatives here after Hurricane Maria landed a devastating blow to the island. Some school districts are “already dealing with an unexpected influx of students related to the disaster,” the foundation said.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Massachusetts set aside funds to support the education, housing and other costs of refugees temporarily residing in the state,” the MTF update said. “It is possible that a similar approach will be necessary to address the costs related to families displaced by Hurricane Maria.”

The Board of Higher Education has extended in-state tuition rates at University of Massachusetts campuses, state universities and community colleges to students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who relocated here because of hurricane damage. The break from the higher out-of-state tuition rates will be in effect through the spring 2018 semester.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who visited the State House on Dec. 12, said then that education is the primary concern of parents who evacuated their families from the island.