| G. Edward Johnson, Creative Commons

Sanctuary county can’t pay for ‘cultural proficiency’

ROCKVILLE, MD. – One of the nation’s largest school districts to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants is pleading with parents for more money to cope with foreign students.

The call to increase school funding in Montgomery County – one of the highest-profile “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the country – comes amid an intensifying political mood against illegal immigration.

Michael A. Durso, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, sent out a letter to parents Tuesday, urging them to lobby elected officials to increase school funding. In his letter, Durso cited a need to “build the cultural proficiency of staff” to accommodate a spike in students who do not speak English.

Montgomery County abuts Washington, D.C. Its leaders have invited illegal immigrants to settle in the area for two decades, joining the nationwide sanctuary movement that now numbers more than 300 jurisdictions. County officials have shielded illegal residents from federal immigration authorities.

But Durso’s letter indicates the public school system is feeling the strain.

“Nearly 35 percent of our student body is eligible for free and reduced-price meals (FARMS), an increase of 16,407 students since 2009,” Durso wrote. “Moreover, we have seen a 32-percent increase in students enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) during this same period.”

“Over the last eight years, Montgomery County Public Schools has seen a rapid expansion in the number of students enrolled, but a contraction of the essential resources to serve them,” Durso said.

Without referencing the county’s sanctuary for illegal immigrants, Durso mentioned what he called the “unprecedented growth and changing needs of our student population” and the need to “build the cultural proficiency of staff.”

Three areas of Montgomery County have some of the highest percentages of immigrants from El Salvador in the United States, according to county officials.

Durso is requesting $2.5 billion to run the county’s schools for Fiscal Year 2017, which he says is “a $180.2-million increase” from the previous year. The county school system claims to be the 17th largest in the nation.

At times, Montgomery County has been at odds with the Obama administration on immigration issues. In January, when Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced a new crackdown on illegal immigrants who had previously been deported from the U.S., the county instructed local police to “play no role” to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The county council unanimously issued a statement telling illegal immigrants, “Go to your schools, work, and faith congregations, social service agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, community organizations and public buildings, as well as grocery stores and other commercial areas. Continue helping us work hard every day to make Montgomery County one of the very best places to live, work, play, and age with dignity in the nation.”

County officials said that any federal enforcement action to deport illegal immigrants would be a threat to public safety. “We are very concerned that any federal enforcement actions in our country not undermine this trust and threaten public safety in our community,” the council members stated.

In his letter to parents of public school students, Durso called for grassroots involvement to increase the budget. “Please write to the county executive and County Council, sign up to testify, and contact your friends and neighbors to get involved today,” Durso said.

Durso did not respond to requests for comment.