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Bowling Green/Warren County School Leaders Are ‘Overwhelmed’ by Refugee and Immigrant Students

Becca Schimmel

School leaders in both Warren County and Bowling Green say they’re overwhelmed by the number of refugee and immigrant students filling their classrooms.

Superintendents came to the quartely meeting of the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky Thursday to voice their concerns and say they lack the resources to meet the basic needs of those students.

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said in many cases his system doesn’t have the resources or the time to properly educate students. He said refugees often enroll in school with little to no formal education. 


“A 19 year old shows up the other day, law says you got to educate them. No formal education, I mean, zero. I mean, where do we put them? We’ll hug them, we’ll feed them, we’ll clothe them, but we’re not miracle workers.” 


Clayton said he worries English-language-learning students exiting Warren County schools won’t have the skills needed to contribute to the community. He said Warren County schools have some of the lowest per-pupil funding, and ELL students are the most expensive to care for.


Warren County opened the state’s first four-year, all-refugee International School. Clayton said the school’s good reputation is one reason why they’re overwhelmed with refugee and immigrant students. 


“But the reality is, you go in there and talk to those kids, they’re happy, they’re doing well. Well, guess what they do? They share their word and they tell their families, and next thing you know we have more relocating because of the quality,” Clayton said.  


He said the state assessment likely won’t show that, because teachers don’t get enough time with those students to get them to the same level as their peers. 


Bowling Green Independent Schools superintendent Gary Fields was also at the meeting and said his schools are struggling. He said a new plan is needed because schools are at a critical point, and could face tough decisions. 


“We’re not addressing an issue that’s going to eventually be something that makes people pick A or B, as far as, are we going to fund this program or this program,” Fields said.


He said another challenge is the diversity of the refugees and the different languages they speak. Fields said the cost of having access to interpreters is putting a strain on school budgets.  


Both superintendents came to the meeting hoping to find ways to better assist refugee and immigrant students. 


Kentucky ranks fifth nationwide for refugee arrivals, with more than 30 percent of those refugees school-age children. In the last federal fiscal quarter, Louisville had 632 refugee arrivals, the most in Kentucky. Bowling Green had 459. 

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