When the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 ruled that all children, regardless of their immigration status, are entitled to a free K-12 education, it had no idea what that would mean for school districts (“Engulfed by Migrant Children, and Straining to Teach Them,” The New York Times, Jul. 10). Only now is the full picture emerging.
School districts across the country are inundated with newcomers who lack even the most rudimentary education. Moreover, many are traumatized by events they have been through in their native countries. As a result, school officials are hard pressed to find enough certified teachers to meet their needs and interests.
These newcomers deserve a basic education, but Congress needs to step up to the plate and find sufficient funds to provide it. So far, they have not done so, leaving states on their own. Even when they have been able to come up with the funds, many residents worry that their own children are being shortchanged. This is not xenophobia. It is a reasonable reaction to what is happening.They have compassion for migrant children, but they also don’t want to see education standards dragged down by the influx of so many undocumented newcomers.
If history is any guide, the success of schools will be decidedly mixed. As Irving Howe wrote in “World Of Our Fathers” about the wave of immigrant children in 1905 in the New York City system: it “did rather well in helping immigrant children who wanted help, fairly well in helping those who needed help, and quite badly in helping those who resisted help.”
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