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City Schools: Adding refugees affects all students.
Last week, Chelyen Davis and Kelly Hannon reported on a meeting the city School Board had about how the schools check on students’ residency status in Fredericksburg. They mentioned a letter the School Board sent last week to Gov. Bob McDonnell, urging him to help them stem the flow of refugees to the city’s small school system.
This is a topic that has been discussed for quite some time. Our own Amy Umble has covered efforts by the local faith community to stem the flow of refugees to Fredericksburg, a community already working to meet the needs of the more than 500 refugees who have been resettled in this area over the past five years.
In their letter, School Board members say they have been informed that 100 refugees are to be resettled in this region in the coming year, with half of them to be placed within the city limits. Because Fredericksburg has a smaller budget, fewer schools and fewer taxpayers than its neighboring localities, some city officials have tried to make the point to the resettlement office that the burden of this high-needs population should be more equitably spread among larger, wealthier localities.
The School Board makes some similar points in its letter to the governor, which you can read here. They include:
- Fredericksburg only has four schools (one at each age level) to absorb the impact of refugees. Stafford, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties (which, combined, will absorb the same number of refugees as Fredericksburg) have more than 150 schools among them.
- An English-language learner costs a local school division nearly twice as much to educate as does an average student.
- 13.1 percent of the total city student body is already English-language learner students.
- Because the schools are dealing with fewer resources, adding new high-needs students requires the redistribution of existing resources, which in turn affects every student in the division.
- Because these students have a high dropout rate, they stand to jeopardize the accreditation status of the city schools, because that status is tied to graduation rates, and in a small school system, just a few students dropping out can have a large impact on a percentage basis.
The board members close by saying, “This locality simply cannot support them,” and urging the governor to encourage the resettlement office to help place refugee families in localities better equipped to meet their needs.
What, if any effect this letter has remains to be seen. Board members noted in their letter that past requests made directly to the agency responsible for resettlement have been followed by an increase in the flow of refugees to the city.