L.A. Unified Struggling to Educate Unaccompanied Central American Minors

Published on October 27th, 2016

By Joe Guzzardi
October 27, 2016

A recent Los Angeles Times story reported on Belmont High School where 25 percent of the students came to California as unaccompanied Central American minors. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English. Their native languages are Quiché, Chui and Mam. For the older teenagers, learning English has proven more difficult than it has for younger students.

The story outlined the challenges that students and their teachers face. The teenagers are poor, many have never been in a classroom before, and some are homeless. Others have years-long gaps in schooling, and the American education system confuses them. They may be living with relatives they’ve never met or strangers. As for the teachers, they’re helping their students overcome trauma from their travels north, and with abandonment issues if their parents preceded them to the United States.

And while the principal remained upbeat – at least publicly – one comment she made to the Times reporter is telling. From the story: the illegal immigrants’ presence in the classrooms “has forced the school to reimagine its role in its students’ lives.” The principal also said that “This [teaching non-English, non-Spanish speaking Central Americans] is going to take a rethinking of education in general. Then she asked: “Sure, they get into school, but what’s next? How do we support them?”

Here are my takeaways from the story. First, while it’s noble to do the best possible job for the illegal immigrant students, schools are neither intended to be nor can they be parental substitutes.

Second, the presence of thousands of illegal immigrant children not only at Belmont but throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District is unfair to the already overburdened California taxpayers who spend more than $10 billion annually to fund the state’s 1.4 million non-English speakers, nearly 25 percent of the total enrollment. Despite overall spending for California’s public schools at an astronomical $76.6 billion yearly, Education Week gives the state a D grade for academic achievement. Teacher time spent on the illegal immigrants means attention is diverted away from citizen children who need all the help they can get.

Third, no matter how many resources are expended in an effort to bring immigrant children up to speed, the results are disappointing. According to the Congressional Budget Office, adult immigrants between the ages of 25 and 64 are three times as likely as native-born to have dropped out of high school, 29 percent versus 8 percent. Accordingly, lower educational achievement among immigrants translates into less earning power than natives, and therefore results in greater welfare reliance.

Fourth and finally, whether it’s the Syrian conflict or an alleged Central American crisis, and experts say violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is no more intense than in previous decades, the U.S. shouldn’t be obliged to resolve every global emergency. President Obama is fond of saying that turning away Middle Eastern refugees or Central American minors “is not who we are.” But the time is long overdue to help struggling American students and their parents. Obama has forgotten about the 1.2 million homeless American K-12 kids, and the 50 million adults who live below the poverty line, a sorry statement on his administration’s commitment to help immigrants, even as citizens fall further behind.

A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

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