As Miami-Dade County school rolls rise, entrants from abroad diminish
By Anne-Margaret Swary
Enrollment in Miami-Dade County Public Schools is up more than 2,000 students over the same time last year, but officials are seeing a decline in students from foreign countries.
This marks the second consecutive year that enrollment has inched higher, and school administrators expect the number to grow a bit more as students continue to trickle in.
"After the Labor Day holiday, we'll see what our student enrollment is really going to look like," said John Schuster, the school district's chief communications officer.
Total enrollment as of Tuesday stood at 347,421 students, and will probably continue to rise until October. By comparison, the district's peak enrollment was 374,725 in the 2001-02 school year and had declined to 345,150 in 2008-09.
"We are getting a lot of kids back from private schools, mainly as a factor of the economy," Mr. Schuster said, as more and more parents cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars a year in private school tuition.
Charter schools enrollments throughout the district have grown in recent years, almost doubling since the 2007-08 school year, when charter school enrollment was at 21,667. Currently, 40,648 students are in charter schools.
"I think a lot of parents are under the impression that if they are sending their child to a charter school, they are getting a specialized education," Mr. Schuster said. And the number of new charter school applications continues to rise around the state.
To bolster its own offerings, the district has added 18 new magnet programs and rolled out three new district-managed charter schools of its own this year, giving parents even more choices.
Where the district has seen declines is in students coming into South Florida from foreign countries, said Charlene Burks, administrative director of the district's Attendance Services office.
"We're seeing a lot of children hitting obstacles before they leave their country," she said. "Then there's the obstacles trying to get into our country."
The district used to get annually huge numbers of children from Venezuela, for example, but now the country isn't even in the district's top 10, Ms. Burks said, citing tighter controls by President Hugo Chavez.
In China, it now takes months to get an appointment with the embassy. Also, China is very selective in whom it allows to come to America, wanting to send only the highest achievers who will not "embarrass" their homeland, said Teresita Ceballos, supervisor of the school district's Foreign Records/Student Visa office.
Economics also is a factor, especially with families in Latin America.
"They want to come to the United States for economic reasons, but there's no jobs for them here, so they aren't coming for those reasons," Ms. Burks said. "And people can't afford to leave" their home countries.
European nations tend to be more flexible in releasing visas for students, but they've been hit by their own economic turmoil of late, Ms. Ceballos said.
And to get a visa, she said, parents also must reimburse the state for full-time equivalent money — the amount the government provides local schools, which amounts to $6,800 per child per school year — paid in full.
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