No State Education Funds to Unaccompanied Minors in Federal Shelters, Says Texas

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School districts cannot use state funds to provide education services to unaccompanied alien children (UAC) housed in federal shelters, say Texas education officials.

This statement came in response to efforts by the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District to provide educational resources to the federally operated Southwest Key Casa Padre facility hoping to receive an additional $2.8 million in state funding by including the shelter’s students in its enrollment numbers, according to the Associated Press.

Michael Vargas, San Benito CISD school board president, told National Public Radio (NPR) the district provided the federal detention center with 19 fully certified bilingual teachers, 570 Chromebooks and iPads, mobile classrooms, and other instructional materials. He said this was “to make sure that students in those shelters are getting the exact education that traditionally situated students are getting here in the San Benito school district.”

Vargas called this a “legal” obligation, claiming that under the Texas Education Code “anybody lying within our jurisdictional boundaries and if they reside within a residential facility located in the district, then we as a district are obligated to provide services – educational services to them.”

However, TEA Associate Commissioner for School Finance Leo Lopez said otherwise. In a letter sent Friday, Lopez advised the state’s school district administrators that the U.S. government is responsible for educating “children held or maintained by the federal government in residential facilities and under the care of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).”

Under the feds’ care, the migrant minors must receive at least six hours of academic instruction on weekdays, according to the ORR.

Lopez said school districts cannot include the “attendance” of  federally sheltered UACs into their enrollment figures to access state funding. Instead, they may charge a fee or tuition to provide educational services to these children. He added that tuition charges must be submitted and approved by the Texas education commissioner.

“If Texas public schools provide educational services to children held in custody by the federal government, under Texas law payment for those services must come from sources such as tuition, not from state funds,” wrote Lopez.

San Benito CISD Superintendent Nate Carman responded to the TEA, calling this information a “surprise.” In a written statement, he accused TEA of no longer “honoring procedures it has had in place for years providing for the education of youth held in custody by the federal government at a residential facility within the jurisdictional boundaries of a Texas school district.”

Carman said, earlier this year, San Benito CISD agreed “to place teachers and administrators” at the Southwest Key facility “to provide for the education of students in its care.” He said the district “felt legally and ethically obligated” to provide these services to “any student that resides within our district, regardless of immigration status.”

It remains unclear why this matter became so confusing to the school district. The ORR website notes, “While in HHS shelters, unaccompanied alien children will not be enrolled in the local school systems.” Likewise, Southwest Key states online that UACs in their care do “not impact children in the local school system as our kids receive all educational services separate and distinct from local children.”

San Benito CISD was not they only school district trying to use state school funding to pay for educational resources in federally run UAC shelters. Recently, the TEA denied a request from the Austin-based charter Promesa Public Schools to fund services for pre-K-to-12 migrant children in federal detention, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Additionally, the AP reported Southwest Key had an agreement with another Texas school district and was “working to establish partnerships with Brownsville ISD.” The news service stated Brownsville ISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas said she “felt a responsibility to honor the spirit of a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Plyer v. Doe,” which protected K-12 students brought illegally into the U.S. from discrimination. It mandated U.S. public schools must educate these children.

However, Plyler v. Doe pertains to migrant children placed with a parent, guardian, or sponsor in a community with plans to attend a local public school, noted Education Week.

TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson confirmed to Breitbart Texas, “ For children in migrant shelters, the responsibility of meeting their educational needs remains solely with the federal government. These services are generally provided to students in its custody through its contractors.”

San Benito CISD since canceled the agreement with the Southwest Key shelter, according to NBCDFW.

San Benito is located along the Texas-Mexico border in Cameron County. The Austin-based nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, Inc. operates 26 UAC facilities of which 16 are in Texas. Others are in Arizona and California. Over the past 10 years, the corporation received roughly $1.5 billion from the federal government, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data. Bloomberg reported the company will make more than $458 million this year. The nonprofit says it also contracts with other agencies to operate youth justice programs and assist charter schools in underprivileged neighborhoods.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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