By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND, Va.— Virginia classrooms this school year will include as many as 2,800 new undocumented children costing state taxpayers $54 million.
The cost for school-eligible children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and have been released in Virginia — oftentimes extended family members — is among the highest per-capita in the nation, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR, a research group opposed to illegal immigration, said the feds reimburse the state and localities about 10 percent.
If you’re doing the math, that works out to nearly $20,000 per student. Why so high? In a nutshell, it costs more to document underprivileged students for whom English is a second language.
“The reason these kids are more expensive to these school districts is because many have limited English skills,” Bob Dane, communications director for FAIR, told Watchdog.org. “…There’s a lot of catch-up, there are a lot of cultural hurdles.”
As Watchdog.org reported, Gov. Terry McAuliffe — when asked on radio how he will handle undocumented children in regard to jobs and schools — said immigration is a federal issue and, “we don’t have an issue in Virginia.”
Dane said that’s nonsense.
“It’s always a concern to taxpayers, considering the taxpayer pays state, local and federal taxes,” he said.
For school administrators, teaching children who come to the U.S. without proper papers isn’t new, as interviews with school officials around the state show. But Dane said that doesn’t mean it’s easy — especially when state and local budgets are already strapped.
FAIR analyzed Department of Homeland Security figures and education funding formulas in all 50 states to develop its estimates.
The 37,000 unaccompanied children placed by the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services around the country will cost the nation’s taxpayers up to $761 million for the 2014-15 school year, FAIR says.
But a new report from Pew Research Center shows 56 percent of Americans favor allowing undocumented children to attend public schools while they await deportation hearings; 40 percent are opposed and the rest don’t know.
FAIR says Virginians already spend about $1.2 billion a year teaching about 95,000 children of illegal immigrants, although it doesn’t make a distinction between children born in the U.S. and children born in other countries who come to the U.S. The law does make a distinction.
The average wait time for a deportation hearing in the U.S., which has increased each year since 2009, is close to 600 days.
So far, the feds have only deported fewer than 300 undocumented children who crossed the border this year.
“We all want compassion for the illegal alien kids, but I think we understand that kids in the classroom aren’t’ getting a fair shake at a good education when the classrooms are crowded, the teachers are burdened, and English becomes a challenge,” Dane said.
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter with Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be followed on Twitter @kathrynw5.