The result could mean as many as 957 foreign teachers — more than 10 percent of the county’s teaching corps — would lose their visas by 2014. Such an exodus would mark a significant reversal after years in which many U.S. schools filled hard-to-staff positions with overseas instructors.
Cabrera, who teaches pre-kindergarten at Carole Highlands Elementary School in the Takoma Park area, would be among the first to go; her visa expires in June. She nodded as the priest suggested a divine reason for all of this.
“Sometimes when we’re faced with a difficult situation, we ask, ‘Why are we suffering? Why are they taking our visas away?’ ” the priest said, answering: The Lord “wants you to find that inner spirit — that strength deep down inside of you to help yourself, and to help others.”
In April, the Labor Department ruled that Prince George’s owed 1,044 foreign teachers, mostly Filipino, $4.2 million in back pay. The department fined the county schools $1.7 million and concluded that the system was a “willful violator” of federal labor law. If that finding stands, the system will be unable to renew any three-year visas for its foreign employees. Prince George’s is appealing.
When the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act called for schools to find highly qualified teachers, Prince George’s and several other systems facing a tough labor market got innovative: They hired from abroad. They also drew scrutiny from the Labor Department, which has has cited about 17 educational entities for shortchanging foreign workers. But only one other system — in Dayton, Ohio — has been found a willful violator.
Cabrera said she would rather keep her job than recoup the back pay, about $4,000 per teacher. She wants to become a permanent U.S. resident.
“A green card would make me feel like I accomplished something,” she said. “It would feel so good to know that America thinks I benefit their country.”
Single and ambitious, Cabrera said she came here nearly three years ago to soak up the best practices of American education, hoping to one day start a school back home. It brought her financial stability: She just bought a new Honda CR-V, and she helps pay her father’s medical bills.
Cabrera said she has learned from other Filipino teachers who have come to Prince George’s over the past decade. They live on the same street of Largo townhouses and pray the rosary with her each Friday.
In early 2008, a Prince George’s schools recruiter had interviewed Cabrera in Manila for the job. It was arranged by Arrowhead Manpower Resources, one of many Filipino agencies that help U.S. schools find teachers with advanced degrees.