Honig Seeking Extra Aid for Overburdened Alien-Education Program

March 22, 1989 2 min read

California’s school chief has told the legislature that required education services for legalized aliens may have to be halted next month unless state officials advance his department more funding from their $1.8-billion, five-year federal allocation for such services.

Testifying at state Senate hearings this month, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said he backed a bill that would provide an additional $50 million in federal funds to allow adult-education classes for immigrants to continue until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

The state department of education, which received $121 million this year out of its five-year total of $354 million for the program, has been overwhelmed by applicants for education services, Mr. Honig said.

Under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, aliens granted amnesty are required to take at least 40 hours of “citizenship” training. But Mr. Honig said many in California are also asking to continue their education beyond that point.

While he termed that phenomenon vital in turning legalized aliens into “productive citizens,” he said it is also straining the capacity of the system to respond.

Enrollment in the state’s citizenship-training programs currently tops 350,000, Mr. Honig said, and is expected to reach an estimated 1.9 million by the end of the year

The sharp increase in enrollment has left the state education department facing an anticipated $143.5- million shortfall, he said.

California health and welfare department officials, meanwhile, oppose the supplemental-funding bill, on the grounds that it would lead to a shift in funds from other needed social services for aliens. Their agencies are now slated to receive nearly 80 percent of the overall federal grant to California.

Diane Cummins, a state financial officer, said health programs also face a current-year shortfall of an estimated $20 million to $30 million.

The state’s tug-of-war over funding has been fueled, in part, by proposals in Washington to rescind or transfer part of the five-year, $4-billion appropriation for State Legalization Impact Assistance Grants (sliag).

In its final budget, which Bush officials say they are following, the Reagan Administration proposed rescinding an estimated $300 million in appropriated sliag funds.

In addition, Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, this month proposed “borrowing” $150 million from sliag appropriations to aid refugee Soviet Jews.

As of last week, the California bill had not yet won approval in either the Senate or the House. Gov. George Deukmejian has not taken an official position on it, but onlookers suggest he will be unwilling to tamper with next year’s appropriations.

Meanwhile, Dade County, Fla., school representatives met with White House and federal immigration officials last week to lobby for an increase in federal assistance to help deal with a dramatic increase in Nicaraguan immigrants there.

Paul Bell, Dade County’s deputy superintendent, said he had hoped to meet with President Bush but the President was not available.

Last week’s meeting in Washington produced “no action, or promise of federal action, and no commitment from the President,” Mr. Bell reported. But Dade officials will continue their efforts, he added.--lj

A version of this article appeared in the March 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as Honig Seeking Extra Aid for Overburdened Alien-Education Program