Yesterday the Federation for American Immigration Reform released a report documenting that 34.7% of our school budget is devoted to educating “Limited English Proficiency” (LEP) students, of whom some portion are illegal aliens or the children of illegal aliens. The data in the report suggests this percentage is rapidly growing and should serve as a dire warning to anyone seeking to address educational costs and student capacity in the county. If we are to reduce class sizes, reduce school overcrowding and improve educational outcomes for all students in Prince William County, the growth of LEP students in the system utterly prevents such intentions. We simply cannot afford the costs of exploding LEP enrollments in our public schools.
These students fall into several general categories:
1. Legal immigrants, whose parents are legally present,
2. Students who are American citizens of parents who are unlawfully present,
3. Students who themselves are unlawfully present, and
4. Students present as “Unaccompanied Alien Children” who were detained at Youth For Tomorrow for about a month then released to “sponsor” families in the county and then enrolled in the public school system.
The only data we have of the size of the population in these categories is the last one, where we know how many illegal alien minors have been released by the UAC program in our county, which amounts to about 722 every year. The remaining roughly 19,000 LEP students fall into the other three categories and since the school system refuses to make any effort to quantify which category they might fit in due to a laughably fraudulent interpretation of the Plyler v. Doe decision that has utterly no basis in fact. Preventing the collection of data that might be useful to developing policy is the easiest way to prevent the implementation of any policy changes, and it’s pretty clear that the staff at Prince William County Schools does not want anything to do with anything that might result in a reduction of school enrollments, no matter how it burdens the fragile system.
And what a burden is is becoming.
Averaging the annual growth rate between 2005-06 and 2014-15, of the 2,135 students the school system will increase by 65.3% of them are LEP students. We had significant increases in 2007-08 (+1566, immediately before the Rule of Law Resolution was adopted) and in 2013-14 (+4625) when the “Unaccompanied Alien Child Program” started facilitating illegal alien minors being enrolled in our schools with the help of Youth For Tomorrow and Obama’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy started. Given that both DACA and UAC programs are most likely to continue despite useless whining but persistent inaction from Congress and our feckless Congressional delegation, that most recent explosion of LEP enrollments is likely to continue.
In the past two years, we added 6,428 LEP students to the school system while overall enrollment increased by only 3,950. The percentage of LEP enrollments in the system increased from 16.35% to 22.96% and the costs to educate those LEP students rose from 22.67% of the school budget to 30.89%, up from where they were in 2005-06 of 15.7%. Those annual cost increases over the term of this study are sufficient to fund the construction of a new high school in the county (even at PWC’s highly inflated construction costs) each and every year not out of capital borrowing, but from annual operational revenues. That’s a staggering amount of resources which would utterly eliminate every classroom trailer in the county and eliminate all overcrowding in county schools immediately, as well as fund a healthy pay increase for county teachers every year.
As this rate of growth in LEP enrollment continues to increase, the budgetary pressures faced by the school system will be insurmountable. On average, LEP costs increase by $22 million each year, but in the past two years that cost has increased by an average of $50 million. Next year are we going to be able to fund another $50 million increase in the school budget just to accommodate the needs of LEP students on top of the needs of the other students? Not if we ever hope to reduce classroom overcrowding at all. No wonder Dr. Walts isn’t interested in reducing classroom overcrowding - he knows what the financial projections look like and he knows it is utterly impossible as long as this continues.
Fixing this is going to require policy action at the federal, state and local levels, but primarily at the federal level. It’s ridiculous to think we’re going to be able to send a bill to the federal government for this ‘unfunded mandate’ and that they’d actually cut the county a check for some portion of our current $318 million in LEP costs. Congress desperately needs to secure the border, provide meaningful interior enforcement and ensure that our labor laws are enforced while eliminating all of Obama’s ridiculously destructive executive orders that are crushing localities like ours. The only breaks we ever got in this problem was when the economy went down the crapper and illegal aliens moved elsewhere where they could find jobs, and when we passed the Rule of Law Resolution and illegal aliens went elsewhere because they thought they’d get deported if they stayed here. Intentionally wrecking the economy is a pretty bad choice, but giving illegal aliens some degree of respect for the law and an expectation that we actually enforce it is a proven and effective means to encourage them to locate themselves elsewhere, preferably home.
Locally, there isn’t a whole lot we can do, but determining the legal status of those enrolled in our schools would be a good start. At least if we knew with some certainty what the scope of the problem is, we could demonstrate to our unreliable Congressional delegation that playing games with this issue isn’t going to cut it and they better start doing their damned jobs. Clearly they don’t understand what a dire situation this is becoming.
Or we can just bury our heads in the sand and hope this goes away. If you think fighting a 4% increase in local taxes is worth your time, you’re really going to enjoy battling against 6-10% annual increases as the bill for the costs of our generosity to the world’s children comes due.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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