Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Funding Opinion

So, Wishing to Focus Edu-Dollars on Legal Residents Is Racist?

By Rick Hess — August 29, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Yesterday, the Washington Post devoted its lead Sunday editorial to slamming Alabama’s tough new anti-illegal immigration statute. Titled “Alabama’s immigration travesty,” the editorial charged that the law is “poisonous” and seemingly opposes denying illegal immigrants any privilege enjoyed by citizens and legal residents.

The WaPo argued, “Perhaps the most obnoxious provision of the law is its requirement that public schools confirm all students’ immigration status and report those who lack proper documents to school officials.” While Alabama officials acknowledged that established law requires them to serve these students, the WaPo opines, “But whom are they kidding? The measure is meant to frighten youngsters and their parents and will have precisely that effect.”

Trying to document the number and nature of the illegal immigrants who are enrolled in Alabama’s schools strikes me as useful information when it comes to debating immigration policy, school spending, service provision, and the rest. The question of how many dollars, teachers, and resources are being consumed by children who are in this country illegally seems to me a perfectly fair and valid question, given that every dollar and every instructional hour devoted to meeting their needs is necessarily denied to a student who is an American citizen or a legal resident. (I’ll also note that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has just completed a massive effort to collect all kinds of new data on an array of sensitive subjects, such as the number of high school counselors in schools, availability of pre- K and kindergarten programs, districts operating under desegregation orders or plans, and whether districts have written policies prohibiting harassment and bullying on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, and the WaPo hasn’t uttered a peep of protest.)

It’s estimated that three million or more illegal immigrants are enrolled in American schools even as educators wrestle with strapped budgets and policymakers push schools to do a much better job of serving students. Given their family demographics, it wouldn’t surprise a bit if these children are particularly costly to serve given their language status and family circumstances (of course we don’t know, because no one has collected this data). If this “frightening” law prods some families that are illegally in the U.S. to voluntarily return to their native lands, that would seem an eminently desirable way to boost the ability of Alabama’s schools to focus on serving schoolchildren who are citizens or legal residents--whatever their race and creed. And the WaPo regards this as an unquestionably bad thing?

I’ll readily concede there are complex questions of moral philosophy here, and that our commitment to serving children who are in this nation illegally is admirable, in its own way, and perhaps sensible. And we’re all aware that the courts have required schools to educate every child who shows up, regardless of their legal status. But I find it peculiar to see those who regard illegal immigration as, you know, illegal, summarily pilloried as xenophobic racists. It marks me as a reactionary in edu-circles, but I find it bizarre that we’ve come to a place where seeking legal ways to perhaps focus more educational resources on American citizens and legal immigrants is immediately suspect.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.