Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Influx of Immigrant Students Strains State Education Resources School Officials in California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas Want More Federal Aid for Immigrants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Influx of Immigrant Students Strains State Education Resources School Officials in California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas Want More Federal Aid for Immigrants

Article excerpt

OVERCROWDED classrooms and overwhelmed state budgets are causing educators and government officials in many states to lose patience with the federal government and its immigration policies.

During the 1980s, legal immigration brought 2 million new students into American public schools, according to the 1990 United States Census.

A study released last month finds that education is the largest expense associated with immigration. The US spent $8 billion educating legal immigrants last year, estimates Donald Huddle, an economics professor at Rice University in Houston. Illegal immigration pushes educational expenses even higher.

In California, which receives nearly half of all new immigrants, legislators have introduced several bills that would bar illegal immigrants from attending public schools and universities.

"They're here illegally, yet we reward them with free services and a guaranteed education," says California Assembly-man Richard Mountjoy (R), who introduced a bill to prohibit the education of illegal immigrants.

Although the Assembly education committee voted against the bill in March, Mr. Mountjoy has been trying to amend it to other legislation.

Any effort to bar the education of illegal immigrants runs counter to a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that schools must educate all children regardless of their legal status.

Rather than trying to discourage illegal immigrants from coming to their state, other officials are pushing for increased federal assistance.

In Dade County, Fla., the fourth-largest school district in the US, 25 percent of the students are immigrants. "As a result of the foreign policy of the United States, we are a magnet for both illegal and legal immigration," says Thomas Cerra, deputy superintendent in Dade County.

Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians make up the majority of the immigrant students in Dade County. "They basically had the shirts on their backs when they entered the United States," Mr. Cerra says. "They tend to be undereducated and in poor health, with tremendous human needs." Many cannot read or write in their native language or English.

Instruction in English and basic skills for immigrant students is costly. Dade County is shouldering an additional $600 per immigrant student, according to a recent study. It's time for the federal government to "share in the burden rather than take a walk," Cerra says.

Several years ago, Dade County passed a $980-million bond referendum for school construction and renovation. …

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