Florida parents outraged non-citizen students may receive federal aid

CBS12 News | By Kristina Watrobski | October 25th 2023

BARTOW, Fla. (CITC) — Parents in a Florida school district are outraged over students who are not U.S. citizens potentially benefitting from a federally funded grant.

The discussion of a Farmworkers Career Development Program grant was on the agenda at Tuesday’s Polk County Public Schools school board meeting. The grant, amounting to $352,317 and funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), aims to assist seasonal farm workers and their families with educational costs.

Under the grant, adults and students aged 14 and older can receive free guidance on non-agricultural career opportunities.

The guidance is available to U.S. citizens, as well as any “lawfully admitted” refugees, asylum seekers, parolees and “other immigrants” authorized to work in the country, according to the grant. The language has sparked concerns in several Polk County parents who believe approval of the grant would be a misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“We have millions of people entering our nation unlawfully,” one father said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Many migrants are good people who are here to work and support their families. However, there are also large numbers of criminals and potential terrorists who enter as well.”

Adults and students aged 14 and older can receive financial assistance under the federal grant. (Photo: Polk County Public Schools)

“If our practices encourage illegal crossings of our border, we consent and contribute to horrible victimization and slavery of multiple thousands,” a mother warned.

Some questioned Polk County’s ability to ensure whether non-citizens in the district are properly “vetted,” pointing to weak such protocols at the southern border. Others demanded the school board instead put funding towards improving academic performance in the district, which they claim is declining.

“The migrant children coming into our public school system don’t speak English, which makes it harder for them to get educated, and it takes more time and more teachers and staff and money to do it,” another father said. “Resulting in a negative impact on our student performance ratio.”

A common fear of Polk County parents Tuesday was “vetting” non-citizens. (Photo: Polk County Public Schools)

Similar concerns have been echoed by parents nationwide. In New York City, thousands of migrant children were enrolled in public schools last month, prompting parents to worry whether the system can handle the demand.

“Compassion dictates that you want to try and figure out, ‘they’re here now, what are we doing to do with these kids that are here?'” NYC parent Maud Maron told NPR. “But there should also be the question of, what is the impact on the children that are already here? … These are kids who are already very far behind. And now they’re going to have classrooms filled to the brim with migrant kids that teachers are unprepared and, in some cases, incapable of teaching.”

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