Posted on May 28, 2024

The Massive Immigration Wave Hitting America’s Classrooms

Jon Kamp and Alicia A. Caldwell, Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2024


Millions of migrants, most seeking asylum, have crossed the border in recent years and have been allowed to settle in the U.S. until a federal immigration judge decides their fate, a process that can take years. Among the record numbers, federal data suggest, are as many as one million children who have arrived with their families or on their own since 2021.

They are settling in cities and entering public schools around the U.S., adding financial and logistical strains in communities where they have arrived in large numbers. Districts are faced with the need for additional teachers and staff who can teach English and space for new students, often while waiting for promised supplemental federal or state funding.

Denver schools, for example, earlier this year announced a $17.5 million budget shortfall because of new migrant students.

There were recently more than 500 English learners in Stoughton schools, double the number from three years ago. The increase was fueled partly by 90 students, ranging from kindergarten to high school, placed by the state in two nearby hotels serving as homeless shelters. Many are from recently arrived Haitian migrant families.

Haitians have flocked to Massachusetts, which has an established population from the long-troubled Caribbean country.


Adding the 90 shelter students has cost Stoughton, which teaches a total of 3,740 students, at least $500,000 for increased staff and busing costs. The state said it has reimbursed nearly all of that money. But the lag time and uncertainty about how much would be paid back has challenged the district’s ability to plan, said Joseph Baeta, Stoughton’s superintendent.

The most immediate upfront costs this year were hiring five new staff members, including two teachers, and contracting for a bus to shuttle students to and from the hotel shelters, Baeta said. The district has gone from seven to 17 English-as-a-second-language teachers in the past five years.

Massachusetts is legally mandated to offer shelter to any family that seeks it. Migrant families recently comprised about half of the 7,477 homeless families recently living in state shelters, which are at capacity. The state since October 2022 has spent roughly $26 million to reimburse school districts for costs associated with students living in shelters.

In some cases, the state also has consolidated shelter locations to trim costs and house families in locations that offer social services, including Stoughton. Such moves funneled roughly half of the 90 migrant students into Stoughton from other Massachusetts towns in recent months.


Migrant students often arrive both with checkered academic histories and having endured harrowing events in their home countries and on their journeys to the U.S. One girl in a Stoughton High School English-learning class wrote, following a discussion about pets, that gangs in Haiti killed and ate her cat, teacher Thais Payne said.

“There are huge trauma issues. There are students who don’t even have basic skills in their first language,” said Baeta. “In some cases they have lived in two, three or four countries and are not even five years old.”

Stoughton has a history of drawing immigrants, including Baeta, the superintendent, who moved to the middle-class town as a Portuguese speaker from the Azores when he was five. Students in schools there today speak more than two dozen languages. Portuguese is still most common, but Haitian Creole is second and gaining ground.

The district is preparing for 40 additional children already living in the shelters to enter kindergarten this fall.