Best Guess on the Cost of Educating the Undocumented in Texas

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 28, 2007 1 min read
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If you’ve read my blog items about states’ attempts to estimate the cost of educating undocumented children, you’ll appreciate a cautionary statement in a December 2006 report examining the costs and benefits of the presence of undocumented immigrants in Texas.

In the introduction to education costs in “Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A Financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy,” Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a former Texas comptroller and the author of the report, writes: “Any estimate of state costs associated with undocumented immigrants is imprecise due to the difficulties involved in determining their numbers. In public education, federal guidelines prohibit questions of legal status.”

Unlike what seems to be the case among some Arkansas lawmakers (click here), Ms. Strayhorn is knowledgable about how court cases have prohibited the identification of undocumented children in schools.

Ms. Strayhorn’s report, however, does include an estimate of the cost of educating undocumented children in primary and secondary schools in fiscal 2005, using an estimate of the number of such students in Texas by the Pew Hispanic Center. That cost figure is $957 million.

The report concludes that state revenues of $1.58 billion collected from undocumented immigrants exceeded what Texas spent on services, including education, for them in fiscal 2005, with the difference being $424.7 million. The report notes, however, that local governments bore the burden of uncompensated health care costs and local law enforcement costs not paid for by the state.

Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston and reader of this blog, drew my attention to the Texas report. Readers, keep me posted if officials in your state are looking into this issue. I admit, I’m developing a fascination for taking apart the methodology states are using to make these guestimates.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.