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Arkansas Lawmakers Want to Know Cost of Educating Undocumented Children

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Some Arkansas lawmakers are looking into how much it costs the state to educate children of undocumented immigrants. But at a recent legislative hearing, they couldn't get a simple answer from Andre Guerrero, the director of programs for language-minority students in the state.

Mr. Guerrero told me in a phone interview last week that he was questioned for about an hour at the Aug. 14 hearing on the issue. "They wanted to know why we can’t collect data to determine if people are here legally or illegally—why we couldn’t ask for social security numbers and so forth," he said. "I felt it was a witch hunt."

Mr. Guerrero told the legislators that the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe prohibits the state from collecting information on the immigration status of students. State Sen. Steve Faris, a Democrat, responded that constituents are pressing their legislators to ensure that state taxes aren't being spent on immigrants who are living illegally in the country, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which reported on the hearing that same day (registration required). Click here for a LexisNexis News copy of the article.

Late last week, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based organization that aims to curtail both illegal and legal immigration, released a report contending that illegal immigration is the primary factor in the increase of the number of English-language learners in U.S. schools. The report says that educating such students may cost taxpayers more than $4 billion each year. The report doesn't contain an analysis of how the writers reach the conclusion that illegal immigration is the main contributor to the increase of ELLs in schools, but rather refers to a 2005 report published by the same organization.

Keep in mind that nationwide about two-thirds of English-language learners were born in the United States and are thus U.S. citizens. (See "After All, Two-Thirds of ELLs Are Born in the United States.") Also, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a 2004 report that government data is insufficient to determine state-by-state costs of educating undocumented children.

For an earlier post about a state's estimates of the cost of educating undocumented students, see "Utah Asks Feds To Pay For Educating Undocumented Children."

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There are intangible "costs" of educating large numbers of English Language Learners. How, for example, does one gauge the impact of this challenge on the quality of the education provided English-reading youngsters?

For a glimpse inside the classroom of an elementary school teacher facing such challenges, see piece I did:

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