Immigration’s $60 Billion School Bill

New study examines steep taxpayer costs of educating students with limited English skills

The rising number of schoolchildren with little or no proficiency in English is imposing steep costs — both fiscal and in terms of student performance. That’s according to a new study by a Washington think tank that favors lower immigration levels.

The study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform calculates that some 4.9 million students — about 1 in 10 — have been designated as Limited English Proficiency, or LEP. The costs of educating them is $59.8 billion a year, including $43.9 billion for the 2.6 million who came to the country illegally. The per-student cost of $12,128 is about 20 percent higher than the average cost of educating all students.

“Mass immigration is an enormous unfunded federal mandate. Policy is made in Washington and local taxpayers are stuck with the tab.”

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The additional costs come from salaries, benefits, and training for thousands of LEP teachers, tutoring, bilingual textbooks, and other spending. Virtually all of the costs of providing LEP services — some 99 percent — are borne by state and local taxpayers.

“Mass immigration is an enormous unfunded federal mandate. Policy is made in Washington and local taxpayers are stuck with the tab,” FAIR President Dan Stein said in a statement. “Not only are local taxpayers on the hook for these enormous costs, but it is affecting the quality of the education their own kids receive.”

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Because immigrants and their children are clustered in a handful of states, some school systems bear a disproportionate share of the overall cost. Thirteen states spent more than $1 billion on LEP programs in 2016, with California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington spending the most. Almost 10 percent of the states serve more than 100,000 LEP students, and 22 educate more than 50,000, according to the report.

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“The takeaway is that we are not factoring in what happens here once they get here … Immigration policy seems to be made in a vacuum,” FAIR spokesman Ira Mehlman said.

The study identifies several factors causing increases in students who have English deficits. They mirror the reasons for the growing foreign-born population generally — a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America that began in 2014; large numbers of people who come legally on visas but remain after they expire; and the legal immigration of roughly 1 million people a year. In addition, according to the report, immigrants have more children, on average, than Americans.

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While LEP students make up about 10 percent of the total in all grades, it is 17.4 percent in kindergarten. The study notes that the Department of Education determined in 2013 that the United States will need 82,408 new LEP teachers by 2018. Only about 10 percent of teachers currently are certified to teach English as a Second Language.

Impact on School Budgets Detailed
The study documents tight school budgets and painful spending cuts that school systems have made — many of the same systems are experiencing increasing costs for LEP programs. Chicago school officials, for instance, are preparing for teacher layoffs and bigger classes triggered by cuts exceeding 20 percent. The average property tax bill also jumped 13 percent over the previous year.

At the same time, Illinois will have to nearly triple its budget for its 186,646 LEP students to $1.9 billion, according to the study.

In Boston, where thousands of high school students staged a walkout to protest budget cuts, a third of all pupils are in LEP programs. LEP students make up 20 percent of the enrollment in Lexington, Nebraska, a city with a large meat-packing industry in the western part of the state.

[lz_table title=”Immigration Impact on Schools” source=”Federation for American Immigration Reform”]10 States That Spend the Most on Limited English Proficiency Students
|State,Cost,State Share
New York,6.07B,$6.02B
New Jersey,$1.63B,$1.61B

Despite the extra help, LEP students typically perform below grade level. The report cites data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicating that 7 percent of fourth-grade LEP students scored at the “proficient” level, while just 1 percent showed the ability to master advanced work. Non-LEP fourth-graders achieved one of the two highest levels on the NAEP.

Mehlman argued that there is strong evidence that large numbers of immigrant children also make it harder to provide a quality education for the rest of the students. A 1999 study indicated that black and Latino Americans score lower on standardized tests when they share classrooms with large numbers of immigrant children.

Mehlman said the result is that mass immigration complicates efforts to improve schools.

“We’re making it more difficult to achieve everything it is that we say we want to achieve,” he said.

Urban Schools Impacted the Most
Another finding of the FAIR study is that LEP students disproportionately attend urban schools. In urban areas, 14 percent of students are in LEP programs.

Mehlman said the low-income American students in schools with the highest share of immigrants are more likely to need additional support, yet limited resources are diverted to LEP pupils. When immigrants families settle in Los Angeles, he said, “it’s not the Beverly Hills schools” that feel the impact.

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The study lays out a number of recommendations, from ending “sanctuary city” polices to removing incentives for immigrants to come to the United States illegally. It also calls for taking steps to secure the border and capping legal immigration at 300,000 per year.

During earlier immigration waves, the United States had few services for students who did not speak English. Such a sink-or-swim philosophy was more appropriate in an era of plentiful jobs for low-skilled workers, Mehlman said.

“In the 21st century, we can’t afford to sink or swim because there are a lot of kids who sink,” he said.

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