Opinion: Illegal alien students and California’s education failure

Published on December 13th, 2010

Joe Guzzardi
December 12, 2010 10:38 AM

One of the cruelest ironies in California’s never-ending budget crisis is how the public school system has been brought to its knees while funding for illegal alien students, provided by citizen taxpayers, becomes ever more generous.

The recent California Supreme Court decision in Martinez v. Regents of the University of California upheld AB 540, a 2002 law that allows unlawful aliens to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities if they had attended a California high school for at least three years and then graduated.

Although the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates that California’s deficit will increase to $25.4 billion by June 2012, including a $6 billion shortfall in last month’s budget agreement, the Supreme Court approved tuition discounts, provided to approximately 25,000 illegal alien students a year, at a cost to state taxpayers of over $200 million annually.

The Supreme Court preposterously reasoned that, because students must graduate from a California high school after a three-year minimum enrollment period, Americans from other states are not discriminated against. This tortured logic assumes that parents from the other 49 states might be emotionally willing to send their children to a California high school and are financially capable of absorbing the other costs involved for the three-year period like room, board and living expenses.

The court’s decision also defied an existing federal law that prevents illegal aliens from getting benefits not available to citizens.

To make the Supreme Court’s ruling more incomprehensible, only days later, the University of California regents, citing rising costs and insufficient revenues, announced that tuition would increase next fall by 8 percent. Currently at UC, state residents pay $11,300 in tuition a year; nonresidents pay $34,000.

More madness: Even with a university diploma, federal law prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens. E-verify, anyone?

Meanwhile, at the K-12 level, more than three decades of continuing increases in the student alien enrollment has lowered the overall quality of education to such a level that parents look toward private or home schooling to prepare their children for college.

For example, the Lodi Unified School District, where I taught for 25 years, has in an unprecedented move cancelled classes for the first three days of Thanksgiving week. Because of the district’s own budget shortfall, its teachers have been ordered to take mandated, unpaid furlough days. No make-up days have been scheduled.

What this means, obviously, is that any child attending a LUSD school will have three fewer days in the classroom, something most cannot academically afford.

Yet, money to educate illegal immigrants (or their children) is abundant.

Using statistics provided by the California Department of Education website, the Lodi Unified School District has a Hispanic enrollment of nearly 44 percent, or 11,665. Of that total, 28 percent, or 8,400 students, are classified as English-learners. Applying the conservative estimate of $7,500 per student per year to educate non-English speakers, the hit to taxpayers is over $60 million — more than enough to offset the district’s 2010-2011 shortfall, eliminate furlough days, put kids back into the classroom for an entire scholastic year and possibly add back science and art to the curriculum.

The UC case isn’t over. Attorney Kris Kobach, the recently elected Kansas Secretary of State who represented the plaintiffs, called the California Supreme Court ruling a "very weak opinion." Mr. Kobach said he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review it.

As for local school districts, reducing legal immigration, vigorous internal enforcement of existing immigration laws and vigilant border security are the first three steps to bring California education back to its once lofty standards.

The author is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization.

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