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Immigration Reform and School Choice

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According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, there are 1 million children among the nation’s illegal immigrant population, as well as 4.5 million children who are citizens but whose parents are not in the country legally.

Immigration reform has a lot of facets, but much of the GOP’s focus in the drafting of the bill dealing with immigration should be on these 5.5 million children.  (Some details on the legal children of undcoumented parents are in this article.)

Whether it is Raul Labrador or Paul Ryan or some other House Republican working on the House effort on the immigration reform drafting effort, someone has to make sure that the reform bill makes school choice a reality for these children.

I wrote at length about this here, but the debate is just beginning so expect a lot of emphasis on this key aspect of the reform debate.

These children suffer from some obvious and daunting obstacles to success, not the least of which is the difficult circumstances of their parents’ lives which necessarily mean low incomes and limited involvement with their children’s schools.  In addition, the tough economic circumstances of illegal aliens living in the U.S. mean their kids are much more likely to be in the nation’s worst performing schools to begin with.

The good news is that these children can thrive if they are enrolled in good or great schools, and good or great schools can be made up primarily of children who did not enter the country legally or whose parents are not here legally.

On Monday, the American Enterprise Institute issued a report by David Feith: “Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education.” (The picture above is from the press release on the study.)

The report details how schools can serve these children who are not citizens or whose parents are not citizens, giving them great educations and creating great citizens along the way. 

The Senate and House Republicans should begin now to insist that any immigration reform bill include sweeping school choice reform for the children impacted by regularization.  These children and their parents have to be empowered –not in small “test” numbers but as a matter of right—to attend any public school in any city in which their parents live.  Schools with large numbers of these newly regularized residents should get additional federal aid but only on the condition that they adopt key principles of effective school reform such as the ending of teacher tenure in that school and the empowerment of the principle.  The refrom law should also provide a large number of vouchers for use in private schools chosen by the parents provided those schools agree in advance to accept the voucher as equal to the cost of tuition.  Yes, that is an expense in an era of deficits, but one that will actually buy a real good for a real child right now while introducing Americans to the power of personal choice.

The immigration reform debate must be made an education reform debate for 5.5 million children impacted by the law.  There has never been a better opportunity to  provide these children with genuine educational opportunity, and by doing that, improving the education system for all Americans beginning with the most economically disadvantaged schools in the nation.

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