Immigration reform is an extremely controversial topic. What isn’t that controversial is the strain that immigration and especially illegal immigration is placing on our public services. Milton Friedman once said, “It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.”
One of the public services being stretched the thinnest is our public education system. Public schools are exploding with kids. According to the Department of Education, the number of school-aged children has reached 55 million. By 2100, that number is expected to be over 100 million school-aged children. Immigrants and the children of immigrants account for nearly all of this growth in school enrollment.
The sad reality is that the schools that are being overcrowded and underfunded the most are the schools that need the most help. Inner-city schools where students already have many disadvantages are seeing their limited resources being spent simply trying to keep up with the ever increasing student enrollment. Programs such as bilingual training and bilingual classrooms cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while also making the learning environment more difficult. Big class sizes while being forced to be taught in multiple languages with scarce resources are not the best way to educate children, especially those already disadvantaged.
The biggest problem with the dramatic increase in illegal immigrants in public schools is that it is not financially sustainable. With so many states in financial trouble, many are already cutting into education funds. Teachers are being laid off or seeing their benefits cut, new learning equipment is being delayed, textbooks aren’t being bought, and so forth. Using reports by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services and figures from the Digest of Education Statistics, in the year 2002 the state of Kansas spent nearly $47,000,000 on education for illegal immigrants. Obviously this cost has only risen in the past seven years.
It seems to me that this money would be better spent compensating teachers, purchasing computers and other education equipment, and paying for other educational programs such as afterschool care.
This is not a matter of not being sympathetic to illegal immigrants or the immigrants we take in legally every year. The fact is, most of the world is poorer (much poorer) than the illegal immigrants crossing over the Mexican border. Are those in Niger, Myanmar, Yemen, Haiti, Laos, etc. not just as deserving of our compassion as any other person we seek to “take in” or rescue from poverty?
Letting a million or so immigrants in legally and watching millions more enter illegally is not a sincere effort into helping the third world and those in poverty. These poor countries are reproducing so quickly that any hope we have to take in immigrants is quickly undone by their rapid population growth.
Foreign direct investment, micro loans, non government organizations, stopping brain drain – the loss of the brightest individuals from poor countries, are all ways to help developing countries. Immigration is not one of them.
There are many ways we can help the third world. Becoming a third world country ourselves is not one of them. As our education system continues to be questioned and analysts’ claim that our education standards are declining relative to the rest of the world, overcrowding and underfunding schools is not a viable option for developing the next generation of Americans.
I don’t believe there is any hope to reestablish and build on our public education system until immigration reform is accomplished. Until then it will only get worse – we will continue to scrape pennies to build on to overcrowded and badly resourced schools.
Brett Mize/The Bulletin