unfunded mandateMarc Farris | Immigration Reform Blog

Beginning in 2014, a surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors (UAM) began to overrun the border. The Border Patrol apprehended 110,605 youth, almost all of them from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

This population will require at least $1.5 billion a year to put through school, an imposition of a massive unfunded mandate by the federal government, which allowed the UAM into the country and reminded schools of their obligation to educate them. Washington contributes around nine percent of the cost of education, so state and local revenue sources will have to ante up the rest: 91 percent.

This surge comes at a terrible time for the country’s beleaguered public education system. In May, students in Boston walked out of their high schools to protest budget cuts. Chicago is bracing for an historic gutting of its schools when the budget shrinks 20 percent for the 2016-2017 school year. And in Oklahoma City this May, students left their classes to demonstrate against teacher layoffs and reductions to sports and arts programs.

How, then, will Massachusetts absorb 2,944 UAM at a cost of $57 million? What will be the impact of 1,166 UAM in Illinois, most of whom will end up in Chicago? To teach them will cost $18 million. Oklahoma will receive 786 UAM and be forced to spend $7 million educating them.

The vast majority of UAM enroll in LEP programs, which costs more per pupil. In the 1982 Plyler v. Doe case, the Supreme Court ruled that illegal aliens have a right to be educated on the taxpayer’s dime. If school districts hire all of the 82,804 Limited English Proficiency (LEP) teachers that the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition projects will be needed to educate the nation’s LEP students, the cost will be $26 billion. It already costs $59.2 billion to fund LEP programs nationwide.

In 2014, the Obama administration, well aware of the precedent, distributed a memo to all schools reminding them of their obligations. The Education Department provided the carrot (directing local school districts resources) while deploying the Justice Department to provide the stick (veiled threats of lawsuits). The memo represented “the first time that a single piece of guidance has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners.”

Besides the money to educate this population, another problem is that these students are progressing poorly in school. Graduation rates for LEP students are dismal and obviously, the longer a UAM stays in school, the more he or she will cost. So either we spend boatloads of money educating these youngsters or they drop out of school and remain illiterate.

States complain about unfunded mandates all the time, but where is hue and cry over this one, which is directly attributed to the federal government’s dereliction of duty regarding the country’s immigration laws?

One out of every three students in Boston and Nashville are in LEP programs. In Denver, 40 percent of the students are LEP. In Georgia, the figure is one in five. One study suggests that LEP students drag down the performance of native pupils. Unquestionably, resources are being diverted from traditional programs to LEP students. How long will students and their parents sit back and accept this situation?