Good deeds don’t always come cheap.
Across Massachusetts, the residents of urban communities have rolled up their sleeves to help the thousands of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria.
Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, New Bedford — some of the poorest communities in the state are the ones that are bearing the highest burden.
As of last November, some 300 Puerto Ricans had arrived in New Bedford, coming to a community where many of their relatives and friends already live. A total of 156 children from the island have now enrolled in the city’s school system, all of them after the school year had already begun.
On Jan. 7, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that each of 12 Massachusetts communities where 85 percent of the fleeing Puerto Ricans have arrived will share $5,000 of a $60,000 McKinney-Vento homeless education grant. The money can pay for everything from tutoring to before- and after-school programs.
The governor says he plans to work with the Legislature to provide additional state funding for any district that needs it.
And that is an understatement.
On average, it costs about $11,600 to educate a child in New Bedford. Now consider that you’re adding scores of children to the school system mid-year that the budget did not plan for. Consider also that many of these children have a variety of extraordinary needs, from English language learning to special education.
On Oct. 31, Mayor Jon Mitchell wrote the governor asking for school relief and he copied the entire New Bedford legislative delegation on the letter. The governor and Legislature have pledged to address the issue.
The problem for New Bedford, and the 12 other largely urban communities most affected, is that it submitted its budget for the 2017-2018 school year on Oct. 1, 10 days after the hurricane hit and well before the majority of refugees arrived.
The Puerto Rican families that have come to New Bedford and other cities across the state are American citizens. Their lives have been upended by a major catastrophe that continues almost four months later. Large portions of the island still do not have power.
These Americans deserve relief no less than any other citizens who pay taxes, serve in the military and participate in the country’s civic life.
The state government should make clear to these cities what it can do to help, both in the education of these school children, and also in the ongoing housing needs of their families.