Sequestration’s Toll on Immigrants and Our Shared Future

immigration

Two girls at the U.S.-Mexico Border crossing. Photo by Flickr user Bosquet, used under a Creative Commons License (cc-by-sa 2.0)

Here’s what the scaremongers think they know about sequestration and immigration: that hundreds of undocumented criminal aliens will be let loose and hundreds more will swarm through our unsecured borders, steal American jobs, and abuse our welfare system. Setting aside the facts that many being released from detention are guilty of only minor infractions, that net migration from Mexico is practically nonexistent, and that immigrants give more than they take, the vast majority of immigrants in the United States are legal permanent residents or naturalized citizens. These nearly 30 million people will certainly be set back by meat cleaver­–like sequestration cuts. And that should be of concern to all of us.

One federal program for which immigrants are eligible is Head Start, which offers competitive grants for comprehensive early childhood services for low-income children and families. Under sequestration, Head Start funds will be cut by as much as $622 million, which translates to over 96,000 fewer children served.

The automatic cuts to education, however, will have ripple effects throughout the economy. Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. According to an Urban Institute study, they account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the United States lives in an immigrant family.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications for the country. In less than a decade, today’s immigrant children will make up a large proportion of new workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting aging baby boomers. It is crucial, then, to provide quality education for these children.

A functional and successful public education system can help secure economic and social parity for immigrant children and their families by giving students a solid foundation for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn can promote intergenerational mobility for immigrant groups. Ultimately, better mobility means a more productive economy and much-needed revenue for the government.

Poorly funded public schools can widen existing economic and social gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between haves and have-nots by denying disadvantaged students the educational foundation they need to progress. Educating immigrant children, however, is and will be daunting for public schools due to the schools’ diminished capacities and increased accountability burdens coupled with the linguistic and cultural challenges unique to immigrant students.

English proficiency is a significant barrier. Two in five immigrant children are English language learners, and three in four live in households where no one older than 13 speaks English proficiently. In addition, many immigrants have limited financial resources. Children in immigrant families make up close to a third of the nation’s poor children and a similar proportion of the nation’s low-income children. Five in ten immigrant children live in low-income families, compared with four in ten native-born children.

This tenuous situation will be exacerbated by cuts in discretionary spending for federal education programs. Title I grants to local education agencies—a cornerstone program designed to help all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, meet high academic standards—are to be slashed by a whopping $1.1 billion. This will leave 1.8 million fewer students served, among whom are hundreds of thousands of immigrant children. English language acquisition state grants, which help English language learners and recent immigrant students learn English and become proficient in academic content standards, are to be cut by over $57 million, resulting in over 350,000 fewer immigrant students assisted.

Coupled with state budget shortfalls (which can only worsen when the federal cuts kick in), sequestration will set immigrant children and their families further back. If so much of our future workforce falls behind now, all of us will face the consequences in the not-too-distant future.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blogthe Huffington Post, and Feet in 2 Worlds.

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The Chicago Teacher’s Strike, Public Education, and Immigrants

Public schools can give immigrant children a leg up, but it can also set them back argues Erwin de Leon. (Photo: Flickr/sierraromeo)

The outcome of the Chicago Public School Teacher’s strike which centers on teachers’ pay, evaluation, and tenure, will have serious implications for the city’s students and teachers. It also speaks to the national debate over how our children should be taught and classrooms run.

The state of our public school system heavily impacts immigrant families and their children. As the U.S. Census reports foreign-born households tend to be larger and have more children than native households. Six in ten immigrant families include children under 18 and a majority is Latino. Moreover, children of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, accounting for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family. In Chicago, 44 percent of Chicago public school students – over 178,000 children – is Latino. Nationwide, one-in-four public elementary school students is Latino.

We are all affected as well. The considerable demographic shift we are experiencing will have major social, political, and economic implications for the U.S. Our public school system plays a vital and indispensable role in ensuring our economic success and societal progress.

American public schools have always been integral to the full integration of immigrants. Through public schools, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society. A functional and successful public education system can help secure economic and social parity for immigrant children and their families by giving students a solid foundation for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn can promote intergenerational mobility for immigrant groups.

Immigrants understandably tend to place a high premium on education, counting on the investment to eventually pay off for their children. Connie Diego, whose younger brother is a fifth-grader in the Chicago public school system, told a reporter, “We couldn’t ever miss even a day because our parents tell us about all the benefits we have there and how where they came from they didn’t have anything.”

Local Activist Fernando Rayas added that many children learn English at school. Without the public schools, he said “they will fall behind.” Indeed, English proficiency is a significant barrier faced by children of immigrants. Two out of five immigrant children are English language learners and three out of four live in households where no one older than the age of thirteen speaks English proficiently.

Public schools can give immigrant children a leg up, but so can they set them back. Poorly functioning and dysfunctional public schools can widen existing economic and social gaps between racial and ethnic groups and between haves and have-nots by denying disadvantaged students the educational foundation they require to progress. In order to succeed, American students need a solid educational foundation from our schools. In order for our knowledge-based U.S. economy to succeed, we need more highly skilled and educated workers.

As public education advocates, teachers’ unions, governments, and other stakeholders duke out the future of our public school system, they ultimately need to keep the best interests and welfare of our children in mind. They also need to acknowledge however that educators need to be fairly compensated and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. Our shared future is at stake.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, the Huffington Post, and Urban Institute’s MetroTrends, September 14, 2012.

The Right Funds for Reinvestment

Note: This article originally appeared in Voices in Urban Education 32 (Winter 2012), “Civic Investment in Public Education,” produced collaboratively by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Public Education Network (PEN) and based on the work of PEN’s National Commission on Civic Investment in Public Education Commission’s work and on its 2011 report An Appeal to All Americans.

Current economic and social realities make it hard for public education to thrive and succeed, but organizations that support public education are helping many communities reinvest in our shared future.

 
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EXCERPT

President John Adams, a former teacher, wrote in a letter to John Jebb in 1785: The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves (Adams 1856).

Sadly, we have not collectively taken on the responsibility of educating all our children. There is a lack of political will to compel people to pay enough taxes to support public schools (Kober 2007). Public education has therefore failed to meet its mission of advancing the common good.

Nonetheless, communities can still band together and support public schools and school districts. Kober (2007) reminds us that in the 1830s, “little by little, public schools took hold in communities, often because the local people, rather than politicians, demanded them.” It is contingent upon communities now, as it was then, to ensure and sustain public education for all its members. Public schools will continue to flounder unless we all pitch in. In this article, I describe the growing number of local nonprofit organizations that are mobilizing their communities to do just that.

Chronic Funding Shortages

These are trying times for public schools. As many Americans remain unemployed or underemployed and most of us live in constant anxiety about our financial future, state and local coffers remain bare. Programs and services have been cut across the board in most municipalities, and public education has not been spared.

Article PDF [13 pages]

 

Alabama’s Immigration Law Fails Our Future

A classroom in Birmingham, AL
A classroom in Birmingham, AL. (Photo: Terry McCombs/flickr)

Last Friday, close to 2,000 Latino students in Alabama didn’t show up at school. That is roughly five percent of the Latino children in the school system. Their parents kept their children away out of fear – twenty-four hours earlier, Alabama had begun asking students for papers.

The state passed what is arguably the harshest immigration law in the nation in June but its implementation was delayed until a federal judge ruled on lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, national civil rights groups, and church leaders. Last Wednesday, the judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, upheld several parts of the statute, including the one that prompted parents to keep their children at home and some to even leave the state.

This law mandates that public schools check birth certificates when a child enrolls for the first time. If a birth certificate is not presented, parents or guardians have up to 30 days to submit other documentation or sign an affidavit about the citizenship or immigration status of the student. Otherwise, the children are counted as undocumented.

The law does not require school officials to submit names of undocumented students to immigration authorities, but the fear among immigrant families in the state—many are a mix of individuals with and without papers—is understandable. The law’s passage indicates that the loud anti-immigrant rhetoric in Alabama has been codified.

Such laws, and the reaction to them, will keep many children of immigrants – native and foreign-born alike – from their constitutional right to an education. This will have serious implications not only for their future but for our nation’s future.

Children of immigrants are the fastest growing segment of our population. They account for nearly the entire growth in the country’s child population during the past two decades. As of 2010, one in four children in the U.S. is part of an immigrant family–the majority Latino.

The number of Latino children in our public schools has been steadily increasing. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that at the turn of the century, 16 percent of all children in the school system were Latino. A decade later, 22 percent of all students are Latino. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics projects that by mid-century, four out of ten children will be Latino, up from two out of ten today.

This considerable demographic shift will have major social, political, and economic implications. In less than a decade, when baby boomers reach retirement age, the current cohort of immigrant youth will comprise a large proportion of the workers, taxpayers, and voters who will bear the responsibility of supporting our aging population and maintaining America’s place in a fast-changing global order.

For this reason–among other, moral responsibilities–it is imperative that we provide quality education for Latino children and other children of immigrants to prepare them for our shared future.

Current education statistics indicate that we are not doing a good job.

The Children’s Defense Fund reports dismal information. American schools are resegregating. Seventy eight percent of Latino students are in predominantly minority schools. Eight in ten Latino public school students in grades four, eight and 12 are reading or doing math below grade level. Latino students are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. Thirty percent of Latino high school students attend the more than 1,600 “dropout factories” across the country. Only six in ten Latinos finish high school.

Now state anti-immigration laws are making it worse for these immigrant children. And ultimately, the rest of us.

Since the nineteenth century, public schools have been integral to the social, political and economic integration of immigrants. Through public education, new Americans have been introduced to their native-born neighbors, have learned how to be responsible citizens, and have gained the education necessary to be productive members of society.

A good education can give immigrant children the foundation necessary for higher education and subsequent gainful employment. This in turn will uplift the lives of these children and their families, economically and socially.

Unfortunately, the current trends in public education, exacerbated by reactionary immigration policies like the new Alabama law, will result in an underclass of poorly educated Americans who are expected to bear the rest of us on their shoulders.

We should be encouraging immigrants and their children to attend school, not scaring them away from getting an education.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 6, 2011.

A Charter School for Immigrant Children

August 14, 2011; Source: The Boston Globe | A proposal to establish the Somerville Progressive Charter School, geared specifically to immigrant children in Somerville, Massachusetts, has been submitted to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The agency will decide by the end of February 2012 whether to grant the school its charter.

Selena Fitanides, the coordinator of the group behind the initiative, told the Boston Globe that the proposed K-8 school would serve “the needs of children in Somerville whose first language is not English—the children of fairly recent immigrants.” It would open in September 2012 with an initial enrollment of 180 and grow to about 425 students over five to seven years.

The U.S. Census estimates the City of Somerville to have over 21,000 immigrants, 28 percent of the municipality’s total population. About 9 percent of its residents identify as Latino and roughly another 9 percent as Asian. One in ten families live below the poverty line.

Somerville Progressive would offer bilingual students the chance to attend daily after-school enrichment programs in Spanish, Portuguese and French, all of which would also be available to native English-speaking enrollees. The school would have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and would feature innovations such as extended learning time and collaborative learning in mixed-age groups. Fitanides said that the school would be “very student-centric, really focused on the individual and tailoring the curricular and instructional needs to that individual.”

Fitanides argues children of immigrants, particularly those from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, need a charter school. “We need to find a better way to educate those kids,” she told the Globe. “Our current system is not well suited to addressing their needs. We are losing a lot of these kids because they are dropping out of school.”

The founders of Somerville Progressive Charter School share the sentiments of many public-education reformers who have given our public schools a failing grade. President Obama has also touted charter schools as one solution to our ailing education system, although the verdict on their overall effectiveness is still out.

The concept behind this charter school is commendable. But like Somerville School Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, I have a few questions and some “serious concerns.”

For starters, will the school enroll children of immigrants who need the help most or will it be a self-selecting pool of kids with parents who know how to work the system? What about immigrant children whose first language is neither English nor Spanish? Is a charter school the best way to improve the education of most immigrant children? Why not spend energy and resources in bolstering the public school system, which already educates most immigrant children?Erwin de Leon

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 24, 2011.