Education

Wichita schools seeking $1 million in extraordinary need funding, citing refugee enrollment

A Washington Elementary student, from Vietnam, uses a computer program to learn and understand the English language. (April 15, 2015)
A Washington Elementary student, from Vietnam, uses a computer program to learn and understand the English language. (April 15, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect numbers for the amount of money school districts are seeking and for the total districts that have applied for additional funding.

The Wichita school district is seeking nearly $1 million from the state’s extraordinary need fund for schools, citing a large number of students who are refugees.

It is among 38 school districts that have applied to the Kansas Department of Education for additional dollars to deal with a variety of needs, including enrollment increases.

The districts are seeking slightly more than $15 million. The extraordinary need fund has $12.3 million in it. The State Finance Council will weigh districts’ requests at its Aug. 24 meeting.

Wichita, the state’s largest district, pointed to a growing number of refugee students as the reason it needs the additional resources.

“Episcopal Wichita Area Refugee Ministries and the International Rescue Committee in Wichita have each received allocations and are actively relocating refugees to Wichita,” wrote Jim Freeman, the district’s chief financial officer, in the application the district submitted Monday.

“As a result the district is seeing a dramatic increase in the number of school-aged students who are refugees from Burma, Somalia and the Congo region of Africa. Some have lived in refugee camps for decades; all are fleeing persecution, oppression and war.”

The district had 132 refugees enrolled during last school year, and 95 percent did not speak English when they arrived. The district expects an additional 145 to 150 refugee students to enroll this year; it expects the total number of refugees to be about 220.

Freeman wrote that these students come with a host of unusual needs.

“Not only do they have huge learning gaps, they also have difficulty adjusting from refugee camp survival mode to a new country, culture and classrooms. Students exhibit post-traumatic stress syndrome, emotional handicaps, and behavior issues which impact learning, participation and performance in class,” he wrote. “High school aged students have arrived with Kindergarten or 1st grade academic levels; unfamiliar with crayons, rulers, notebooks; one teenager had never held a pencil.”

The district estimates that it will need to add eight new teachers, two counselors to deal with PTSD and other emotional issues, and eight English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) paraprofessionals “to provide intensive language instruction and academic support.” The cost of the additional people and classroom materials totals $980,000.

Freeman noted that the district did not receive any federal immigration funds for this fiscal year despite its growing number of refugee and immigrant students.

During the last school year, the district had students that spoke 81 different languages. The 10 largest language groups, in order: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Lao, Cambodian, the Chinese family of languages, Bengali, Urdu and Swahili.

The extraordinary need fund was created when the Legislature repealed the state’s school finance formula and replaced it with block grants. The previous formula funded school districts based on a variety of factors, including student population and the number of English language learners.

Two other Sedgwick County districts, Goddard and Valley Center, have requested extraordinary need aid because of enrollment increases.

Goddard has asked for $697,725 after seeing its enrollment increase by 175 students. Valley Center has asked for $271,116 because it has 68 more students this year than last.

Contributing: Suzanne Tobias of The Eagle; Associated Press

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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