Editorial: Resources needed for immigrant students


The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

The nation’s fixation on immigration in this presidential election year might seem outsized, given the variety and magnitude of other issues.

But the ramifications, both good and bad, of our country’s immigration policies extend to every state, and Indiana is no exception. Take, for example, an emerging problem for the state’s public schools.

Immigrant students are arriving in Indiana in waves, and some of them are homeless.

“Schools are saying, ‘We’ve seen hundreds and we don’t know what to do,’” Christina Arrom Garza, CEO of the Immigrant Welcome Center in Indianapolis, said. “It’s like water through a fire hose. It’s just all coming right at you.”

Garza was quoted in a recent CNHI News Indiana article detailing the problem.

The difficulty is especially pronounced in some school systems.

At Randolph Eastern School Corp., a district of fewer than 900 students on Indiana’s border with Ohio, the percentage of students who don’t speak English as a primary language has grown from about 6% in 2013 to over 27%. And the trend isn’t subsiding. From 2019 to 2022, the number of immigrant students at Randolph Eastern jumped nearly 160%.

Across the state, in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., the immigrant student population has ballooned by 535% during that four-year stretch.

The immigrants seemingly are coming from everywhere, and the language barrier isn’t as easy to address as it used to be.

“Historically, with our student population, we had Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students. Now, there are maybe 10 languages spoken between our students,” said Kelly Coker, COO and program director with Brightlane Learning.

Coker’s organization specializes in educating students living through housing instability or homelessness, which impacts immigrant students disproportionately in Indiana.

Resources — ranging from personal hygiene items to food to textbooks to wifi — to help homeless students, particularly immigrants, can be hard to come by.

The federal McKinney-Vento Act, designed specifically to help the homeless, allocates money to hire tutors, buy school supplies, provide transportation and offer specialized training for teachers.

But that money doesn’t go very far. In 2022, Indiana received just $1.7 million.

In 2020, schools spent an average of as much as $556 to help homeless students while receiving just $79 per student on average.

Another barrier to matching homeless immigrant students with resources: It can be difficult to get their families to accept help. Coming from cultures of self-reliance, many are hesitant to ask for or apply for assistance.

About 400,000 immigrants comprise about 6% of Indiana’s residents. About 1 in every 14 workers in the state are immigrants.

Moving forward, more resources will be needed to help schools and other institutions fully integrate the newest Hoosiers, particularly the young and homeless.