Florida is opening its doors to Puerto Rican teachers and students displaced by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm which ravaged the American territory last month.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Education announced they would be waiving certain requirements for students and teachers hoping to work or continue studying in the wake of the monster storm.
Many Puerto Rican teachers lack the required records to enroll or teach in Florida public schools because the records were either left behind in haste or destroyed in the storm, so the department will begin waiving educator certificate application fees for Puerto Rican teachers hoping to work in Florida, the country’s closest American neighbor.
Requirements to provide official transcripts documenting the receipt of a bachelor’s degree or higher to teach will also be waived, as long as teachers can provide unofficial copies of the transcripts.
Florida schools will also allow Florida school districts to begin admitting students who lack the same records.
Twenty-eight of the state’s universities and colleges will begin offering in-state tuition rates for Puerto Rican students, an idea floated by Scott last month after Maria hit.
In-state students pay around one-third of what out-of-state students pay for tuition each year.
Some schools participating in the in-state tuition rates for Puerto Rican students include Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the University of Central Florida as well as dozens more state colleges and universities.
Over 250,000 students are currently enrolled in college in Puerto Rico, where many areas are still without potable water and electricity.
“As Puerto Rican families work to rebuild their lives following the unbelievable devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process,” Gov. Scott said in a statement released Friday. “We will continue to work together to make sure Puerto Rican families have all the support they need.”
Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are expected to come to Florida in the coming months, evacuating the badly-damaged island while hoping to start a new life in the Sunshine State.
The uncertainty of when, exactly, Puerto Rico will recover from the storm was part of the reason Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said the department was welcoming new students and teachers to the state.
“Entire communities were destroyed and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure,” Stewart said. “It is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. We are pleased to remove barriers to enrollment and help these students and teachers return to the classroom.”