Immigration’s $60 Billion School Bill

Brendan Kirby, Lifezette, September 16, 2016

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.

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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.

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