Education Department to Award Billions in Grants to School Districts Accepting Students Displaced by Hurricanes, Wildfires

Volunteers and students from C.E. King High School help to clean up the school after torrential rains caused widespread flooding in the area during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey on September 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

School districts across the country educating students displaced by natural disasters last fall can now apply for federal funds to help defray the cost of the unexpected enrollment surge. That includes funding for districts that accepted students displaced by wildfires in California, as well as hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Texas.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education announced the application process for federal grants to assist affected schools. The money is part of a $90 billion federal disaster relief package, approved in the federal budget in February, which includes $2.7 billion for schools affected by the natural disasters. The bulk of that money will go to schools directly affected by the disasters and to districts that accepted displaced youth.

Under the program, affected schools will receive $8,500 for every displaced student they’ve enrolled during the 2017–18 school year. Additional funding will be given to support students with greater needs: $9,000 for each English language learner and $10,000 per student with disabilities.

The emergency impact aid for displaced students is earmarked for districts that enrolled displaced students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the U.S. territories last September, as well as those that enrolled Texas students after Hurricane Harvey struck the state in late August. The money is also available to districts that enrolled California students after a rash of wildfires last October.

The federal government will award the grants to state education departments based on displaced student enrollment data provided to the states by local school districts. State education agencies will then distribute the dollars to individual districts. The federal money can be used to pay for a variety of services, including new classroom supplies, counseling services, or the hiring of additional teachers. State education departments must apply for the funding by May 25.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat who helped secure the education dollars, said in a press release the federal funds will be of particular benefit to school districts in her home state, which has welcomed more than 12,000 students, primarily from Puerto Rico, this school year. In Orlando alone, Orange County Public Schools has embraced an influx of more than 3,000 displaced kids.

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