President Obama’s decision to release or house tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs), rather than remove those who are deportable, will have significant consequences for local school systems beginning next month. Some of the federal contractors used to house UACs will educate the minors on-site but the vast majority who are released to family or guardians will be eligible to enroll in local schools at taxpayer expense.
Caroline Woodason, who works in the Dalton Georgia Public School System, told USA Today "We haven't started school yet, so we are all just holding our breath to see what's going to come on the first day of school." Schools like those in Dalton cannot turn away UACs under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe.
Enrolling UACs will force school systems to shift resources from other priorities, which could shortchange existing students. Those greatly burdened will have no choice but to seek additional local or state funds. Texas Education Agency General Counsel David Anderson reportedly said, "Right now, the state pays about $7,900 per student to districts. These [UACs] would come with certain needs, like free or reduced lunch qualification as well as bilingual or special needs, so we estimate about $9,500 per student to be paid to the districts for those students." If all 4,800 UACs released in Texas enroll in public schools, it would cost Texas taxpayers an addition $45.6 million.
Special teachers will be needed for the UACs. "You’re looking at more educators that are typically your hardest to hire,” Anderson said. “Bilingual teachers, counselors and, even more rare, bilingual special education teachers." Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Board Association, told USA Today, "One of the challenges here, though, is the large number of unaccompanied minors…We don't know the educational background [of the students], if they've even been to school, the language issue and operational issues that could raise costs."
Schools get federal dollars for students with limited English proficiency. Miami-Dade County, which has the nation's largest Honduran population, recently requested additional federal funds because the school district enrolled 300 new children from Honduras during the last three months of the school year.
The Miami-Dade school district has many English-as-second-language teachers, but other districts around the country do not. And since some children speak native Mayan dialects, not Spanish, it will be difficult to find teachers to accomodate them. Dalton’s Woodason says her school district also has to teach UACs basic technology skills because many have never seen a computer.
Read more in USA Today.