Friday, August 17 , 2018, 4:58 am | Fair 66º


Joe Guzzardi: Unaccompanied Minors Straining U.S. Public Schools’ Budgets, Teachers

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark Plyler v. Doe decision, upheld the right of every child regardless of his immigration status, to attend a K-12 public school. Essentially, Plyler v. Doe established that free public education is a constitutional right owed to illegal alien children.

But for the states, Plyler v. Doe represents a huge unfunded mandate. California, with the nation’s highest illegal immigrant population, is especially hard hit.

The court ruled at a time when the nation’s immigrant population was about 20 million, and the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service provided at least some border and interior enforcement.

Today, more than three decades after Plyler v. Doe, the foreign-born population is a record 41.3 million, and the U.S. border with Mexico is wide open, as the ongoing, two-year Central American border surge proves.

According to a Washington Post story, between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, the Obama administration facilitated the entry of about 95,000 unaccompanied alien children, mostly from Central America, into U.S. K-12 classrooms. Thousands more, allegedly part of incoming family units, are also legally entitled to taxpayer-funded public educations.

Without question, the legal obligation to educate mostly poor, largely non-English-speaking students, many with emotional issues related to their adjustment to a new environment, puts an enormous strain on the schools, their teachers and the already overtaxed state residents who must subsidize the illegal aliens’ educations.

For school administrators and other personnel, the burden is particularly acute. Bilingual staff including English as a Second Language teachers must be hired. Schools offer evening workshops on a host of issues including assimilation and where to sign up for community services.

In 2014, for example, the Louisiana Department of Education spent nearly $7 million to school nearly 1,400 Central American minors.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., blamed President Barack Obama’s failure to enforce immigration law for creating a fiscal drain on his state. Vitter said the rapid influx of illegal immigrants puts undue pressure on teachers “who will be expected to accommodate non-English-speaking students. That’s not fair to the teachers and not fair to the students in the classroom.”

Other states have struggled, too. In Massachusetts, the mayor of Lynn cut an effective community policing program that had reduced gang violence by 75 percent so she could divert funds to public schools unable to provide for unaccompanied alien children, some of whom could not read or write in their native language.

The border surge and the subsequent spike in foreign-born enrollment comes as America’s K-12 schools struggle to provide for their existing students. According to the most recent data from states collected and analyzed by the National Center for Education Statistics, 51 percent of the students enrolled in the nation’s public schools are designated as low income.

Even though the school districts have made and will continue to make heroic efforts to educate their new students and bring them up to par with native-born students, the prospects for success are uncertain. Based on statistics published in the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 48 percent of the nation’s high school dropouts are foreign-born.

Financing schooling for unaccompanied alien children drains state and local governments’ budgets, but Obama has shown no willingness, despite earlier promises, to discourage illegal entry from Central America.

Classrooms overcrowded with special-needs illegal immigrants sacrifices American kids’ educations at the very time a competitive jobs market demands that they have exceptional skills.

— Joe Guzzardi is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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