Texas Officials Blame Mexico's Economy for New Illegal Aliens
With the Texas school year a few weeks old, some districts near the Mexican border are reporting significant increases in the number of students who are the children of illegal aliens, but school officials attribute the increase to the sagging Mexican economy, rather than to the Supreme Court's June ruling that the state must educate illegal aliens.
Districts elsewhere in the state have not seen large numbers of new illegal alien students, according to a state official who worked on the court case, and it appears thus far that the Supreme Court's ruling will not result in the huge influx of illegal alien students that some had predicted. The immigration that does occur, however, could pose problems for individual districts, officials say.
The Court, in Plyler v. Doe, struck down a Texas law permitting districts to charge tuition for educating illegal aliens--or to refuse to educate them--on the grounds that the law violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Texas was the only state that had such a law.
The decision was accompanied by wide-spread speculation that it would result in a wave of new illegal alien students.
The Texas Education Agency does not yet have figures on the growth in illegal-alien enrollment this year, but telephone calls from the districts indicate, a spokesman said, that "in areas immediately bordering Mexico there appears to have been between a 10-to-20 percent increase [in the number of alien students]."
Not Much Growth Elsewhere
Elsewhere in the state, he said, there does not seem to have been large growth.
Last year, the state estimated there were 20,000 undocumented aliens in Texas schools. Assuming a 20-percent increase, the spokesman said, there would be an increase of 4,000 such students.
Raymon L. Bynum, Texas commissioner of education, predicted before a House education subcommittee in August that the number of illegal alien children in the state will grow between 5,000 and 8,000 per year, and urged that the federal government provide "impact aid" to offset the cost of educating the new arrivals.
A House bill to provide such federal aid is still in committee.
"We very definitely have more," said Fred R. Reyna Jr. of the Laredo Independent School District's office of research, planning, and student services. "In the past we got a fairly constant number every year--20 or 25." So far this year, there are 90 new illegal alien students in the 23,000-student district, he said.
"It's difficult to estimate how many we will ultimately have, because this is setting a precedent," Mr. Reyna said. Mexican economic conditions are "definitely" a more important cause of the surge than the court decision, he added.
The 18,000-student McAllen Independent School District, located in the southern tip of Texas, has seen a marked increase, but not a huge flood, said Richard R. Chapa, an assistant superintendent.
Mr. Chapa has counted 112 new illegal alien students this year, compared to about 80 last year. He estimated that the district enrolls about 1,800 such students in all.
"The main problem," Mr. Chapa said, "is that we get all these families--legally and illegally--for which we have no previous tax base." As a result of fairly rapid growth in enrollment, the school district is building several new schools and has been forced to use portable classrooms.
Armando G. Carasco, a principal in the 750-student Presidio Independent School District, so far has counted 50 illegal alien students, compared to a total of 20 last year.
"In the past, we educated anybody in the district," he said, "so the Supreme Court decision did not affect our district ... Devaluation of the peso is the main reason [for the increase]."
In the 940-student Culberson County Independent School District, "significant" numbers of new alien children are straining the district's English-as-a-Second-Language (esl) classes, according to Superintendent Lewis S. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers has counted 30 new illegal alien students so far this year. "The increase is overloading the esl program," he said. "We now have about a 40-to-1 classroom ratio," he said.
"If it continues we'll have to pull teachers from another program or add staff."
He believes that the growth will continue. "As word gets around in Northern Mexico that there are laws in place in this country that allow children of illegal aliens to attend free public schools in this country, there'll be more," he said.