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To the Editor:

Your article "Repayment System for Services to Aliens Criticized" (Aug. 2, 1989), which describes a report by the American Public Welfare Association, contains several inaccuracies about California's immigration-amnesty program.

The article erroneously reports that state education officials underestimated the demand for adult-education classes and were forced to borrow funds from next year's appropriation to continue the classes.

First, this information was never part of the actual report.

Second, education officials did not underestimate the demand.

I advised Gov. George Deukmejian and the legislature from the beginning of the amnesty program that there was likely to be a huge response to the education component.

In fact, over 600,000 newly legalized persons enrolled in State Legalization Impact Assistance Grant-funded instructional programs during fiscal year 1988-89. These students have a high interest in education; they are enrolling and staying in the program.

Our problem in California was not estimating the number of participants but obtaining enough sliag dollars to meet the program's needs.

The legislature allocated the $354 million for education using a five-year expenditure plan. The schedule reflected a type of "bell curve," with less money in the initial two years and more money in the middle year. The final two years have only phase-out dollars.

But the students did not attend courses following this schedule. As soon as they became aware that classes were available, they rushed to attend.

This resulted in a utilization of services beyond those currently budgeted for 1988-89. We requested release of funds from future years' state allocations to meet the identified needs, but our request was only partially fulfilled.

Therefore, we initiated legislation to borrow $50 million in sliag funds to meet expenditures.

Fortunately, the legislature and the state administration cooperatively negotiated education funding for fiscal year 1989-90. As a result, the department has sufficient funding to meet the continued expected demand for education in 1989-90.

I share the a.p.w.a. report's conclusion that education will be the most sought-after service by the estimated 3 million applicants.

Education is especially important in California because of two factors. First, approximately 55 percent of all newly legalized aliens reside in California; this number amounts to more than 1 million individuals who are entitled to receive education services.

Second, almost 80 percent of these individuals currently function at a level below the equivalent of a 5th-grade education. In fact, many not only do not speak English and lack basic skills, but also are not literate in their own language.

We need to maximize the use of federal dollars to ensure that the newly legalized aliens become contributing members of our society. If we do not provide this education now, we may pay for it later with increased state and federal welfare costs.

Bill Honig, Superintendent of Public Instruction Department of Education, Sacramento, Calif.

Vol. 09, Issue 02, Page 27

Published in Print: September 13, 1989, as Letters to the Editor
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