As the U.S. School Crisis Deepens, Washington Keeps Its Head in the Sand

Published on March 24th, 2011

by Joe Guzzardi
March 7, 2011

Last week, President Barack Obama traveled to Florida to reaffirm his commitment to improving public education. At Obama’s side was former governor Jeb Bush, another politician who touts his determination to turn around the nation’s dismal school system.

Obama’s stop over in Miami is part of his traveling road show to highlight education reform. Said Obama: "I am not willing to give up on any child in America. I am not willing to give up any school in America."

Obama’s flowery language aside, education insiders agree that the United States’ school system is in deep and possibly irreversable trouble. Pledges to fight for each child in every school simply aren’t consistent with reality.

How, for example, is that battle going to be waged? To close gaping budget gaps, states have already issued hundreds of thousands of pink slips to teachers for the next academic year. Some schools have considered going to four days a week. Either option would result in higher class sizes and less individual attention for the most needy students.

The culprit, which few in Washington, D.C. dare to mention, is four decades of over-immigration which, along with anchor baby citizenship, has put school districts nationwide into the untenable position of being forced to educate the world’s pupils.

Here are some numbers that serve as a backgrounder to the fiscal burden of educating millions of illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born citizen children. Since school districts are forbidden to collect data concerning immigrants’ legal status, the following statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Federation for American Immigration Reform should be considered reliable, revealing estimates.

Of the 55 million total K-12 students currently enrolled, illegal aliens and/or their children represent about 4 million of that population. Assuming an average per pupil expenditure cost of $9,700, American taxpayers spend over $35 billion annually to school illegal aliens and their children.

The staggering $35 billion price tag excludes the overwhelming English language instruction costs. Since the federal government requires school districts to place immigrant students with limited language skills into English as a second language programs, costs escalate rapidly.

A Government Accountability Report report found that the costs associated with ESL can more than double normal instructional costs. According to the GAO, bringing non-English speaking children up to grade level increases overall costs by an additional 10 to 100 percent. If those same students also live in poverty, as many do, the corresponding increases are between 30 to 200 percent.

Not only are English language programs crushingly expensive, they are ineffective. Forty years after ESL was first introduced, there’s no consensus on how to best teach English to English language learners and no tangible evidence that the effort is worth the price.

After decades of rising enrollment from foreign-born pupils and a corresponding drop in native-born students has sharply diminished the quality of education and pushed the system to the brink. Imagine the uses local school districts could find for $35 billion.

Because illegal immigrants are, as a whole, young and have above-average fertility rates, they will continue to account for a disproportionately large share of public education costs indefinately unless the government intervenes. To give our kids a chance, the U.S. needs to impose a legal immigration moratorium and to pass Representative Steve King’s Birthright Citizenship Act that would require at least one parent to be a citizen or legal immigrant.

Without those, the quality of U.S. education will continue to decline.


Joe Guzzardi, a retired California ESL teacher, has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1988. 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].

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