By Joe Guzzardi
November 15, 2010
As a recently retired K-12 California public school teacher who for 25 years worked exclusively with immigrants and their children, I’m not surprised by the Department of Education (DOE) report that Hispanics now make up more than 50 percent of its total enrollment.
I first became aware of the trend when I began to teach in 1986. I noticed that my married colleagues who taught in diverse classrooms had on average two children. For the few teachers that had three children, others had none. Their pupils, however, had as many as eight siblings. Extend that trend out over a quarter of a decade and it’s easy to see how school demographics shifted.
The DOE findings will trigger a debate about how administrators should adjust although from a practical perspective whether the Hispanic school population is 49 or 51 percent is inconsequential.
What’s most interesting is the long term effect that California’s overall school population growth, fueled largely by increases in Hispanic and Asian enrollment, will have on the state’s overall well being.
Today’s enrollment of 6.2 million students represents a larger aggregate population than 35 of the 50 United States. During the 1993-1994 academic year, California had 5.2 million students or the equivalent of the population in the nation’s 21st largest state, Minnesota.
A 20 percent increase over the last 15 years created a series of complex and daunting challenges. When you consider that California is bankrupt and without financial resources to cope with school growth in even the most fundamental manner, the problems become almost insurmountable.
For years to come, California will have no money to build schools, hire teachers or provide after school programs to students who need to be positively engaged.
Basics like offering English as a second language to the growing numbers of Hispanics will be tough. The fact that 1.5 million students, the same as Idaho’s population, are enrolled in ESL classes only scratches the surface of the academic challenges non-English speakers present. The harsh truth is that many students classified as English proficient struggle enormously.
And because the limited English speakers often don’t achieve academic parity, some also don’t graduate. The most current data indicates that California’s Hispanic dropout rate in is about 25 percent. Based on today’s enrollment, 1.5 million won’t earn diplomas.
Perhaps California’s most expensive, unrewarding taxpayer burden is paying for an illegal immigrant child’s education for a certain number of years, say ten for example, at an average annual rate of approximately $10,000 per year. That translates to $100,000 spent on a student that may eventually leave school after his sophomore year.
The immigration fueled education crisis has created an uneasy atmosphere among California taxpayers. An increasing number wonder why they should fund illegal immigrants’ educations.
At the heart of California’s school problem is the repeated failure to enforce federal immigration law. Here’s the snowball effect: lax immigration allows more people into California; they have children, their children, often needing costly special services, enroll in public schools, more schools must be built and more teachers need to be hired. The bills mount, frustrated Californians like me move out of state thereby lowering the tax base and reducing state revenue.
What remains in California is a less educated, less skilled population that is increasingly larger.
Where does it end?
The unresolved mystery is why, given the well established trend toward a California that has more people with greater needs in every passing year, the relatively simple step of implementing existing immigration laws isn’t given a chance.
Joe Guzzardi has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1990. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]