DALLAS, Texas — The question of how Texas schools are gearing up to absorb the influx of undocumented minors has been the speculative fodder of social media pages and fiery local town hall meetings throughout the summer months. Now, the real back-to-school countdown is on and the Office of Refugee Resettlement is reporting 30,340 unaccompanied minors were released from federal custody after being reunited with family or placed in foster homes nationwide. How this translates into Texas public schools and the related taxpayer costs, has remained largely shadowy.
However, on July 29, Texas Education Agency (TEA) general counsel David Anderson testified before the House Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations in Austin to address these issues.
He pointed out that he “was asked to talk state budget and school finances” on the illegal immigration matter as it related to funding issues in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and displaced families. Texas stepped up to help school-aged New Orleans students as part of the humanitarian relief effort.
He opened by telling the committee that every year the state budgets for 80,000 new students in a state that educates over more than 5 million students, annually. It’s a figure that TEA Communications Director Gene Acuna verified when he spoke to KVUE, the Austin ABC affiliate, and it does not include the foreign minors.
TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson broke this down for Breitbart Texas. She said, “This refers to new students like those entering kindergarten, those who have moved back into the public school system, and students from families that have moved into Texas from other states.”
Anderson emphasized in his testimony that the known number of illegal immigrant minors entering Texas K-12 public education classrooms was 4,280 children, reflecting those youngsters who the federal government have now placed into a Texas foster home, as Kristin Tate reported for Breitbart Texas. More illegal aliens were released into Texas than any other U.S. State.
However, to enter a public school in Texas “a child must be enrolled by a parent, guardian, relative or other surrogate,” Culbertson told Breitbart Texas. This happens to be true in all 50 states as is the fact that a prospective student’s guardian need only show proof of residency in the school district for enrollment as Breitbart Texas reported.
However, there is group of unidentified school aged children whose numbers are completely unknown. They are the minors who crossed over the U.S. border illegally with one or both parents. Anderson could not quantify the number of potential school aged students in this population.
“What’s more difficult to anticipate is the possible number of children arriving with adult family members,” he said, as they are not tracked after beingreleased from border custody. Those youngsters are not categorized as unaccompanied and, if their families reside in Texas, they could be enrolling in public school, which starts on August 25.
“They’ve acknowledged they are not showing up,” committee chair Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) interjected in response to Anderson’s admission that these illegal immigrants are not going to set court hearings. This group is “unaccounted for,” he said.
They are the unknown variable, according to Anderson, who pointed out in his testimony that Texas can actually accommodate an additional 25,000 to 27,000 students added (on top of the 80,000) before they “bust the budget.”
This is a figure better fleshed out by Culbertson for Breitbart Texas. “Currently, the FSP (Foundation School Program) is running a surplus of $263 million.At $9,473 per ADA, that would cover more than 27,500 additional students. We expect property value growth to generate another surplus year for FY 2015. Atthis point, I would not anticipate the need for an emergency appropriation,” she stated.
In his testimony, Anderson attempted to put some perspective on the influx by citing the state’s history with Hurricane Katrina in which TEA figures showed that Texas saw an increase of approximately 47,000 students enrolled, although that only translated into 35,000 Average Daily Attendance (ADA). ADA is part of the public education funding formula.
The reason for this discrepancy was because of students who either returned to Louisiana or left the system. Anderson stated that TEA received $235 million in Emergency Impact Aid for the Katrina kids — $6,700 per full-year pupil (ADA). Per federal legislation, TEA was required to send all of thesefunds to the school districts.
According to TEA figures provided to Breitbart Texas, these funds released through the federal government covered state and local operational expenditures ($6,250) but didn’t include facilities expenses, raising state and local per pupil cost to $6,800 and it did not cover federal program expenses. That added approximately $500 resulting in the actual per pupil expenditure (ADA) of $7,300, paid for between federal and state taxpayer dollars.
Still, there are key differences between the 30,000 to 35,000 Hurricane Katrina minors who crossed an interstate border and the undocumented alien children who crossed into a different country. Anderson acknowledged because the Katrina kids were American citizens, their school transcripts were easily electronically transferred into Texas schools and their records were “crisis coded” so that they were tracked longitudinally and followed in the system, primarily to keep an eye on expenditures.
“There are no records with these children,” Acuna also told KVUE. “So what grade level do you put them in? What type of support and accommodations do they need? How will it impact a school or a campus or even a district’s accountability rating in regard to whether they have to test those kids or not test thosekids? Those are the types of questions that districts are asking us.”
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, TEA figures showed that related education funds made up less than 2.5 percent of the US Department of Educationexpenditures over those 2 years. When it comes to the unaccompanied minors, the TEA figures show average funding entitlement for 2015 as $7,903 (with the increases in basic allotment) per ADA.
“If we make the assumption that these students would qualify for the additional weighted funding of Bilingual and Comp Ed, then the student woulddraw down $9,473 if in attendance for an entire school year,” Culbertson told Breitbart Texas.
She acknowledged the big unknown, also saying: “Since we do not know how many students will come into the system or how long they will stay, we do not know what the final amount of money will be.”
However, there is another unknown variable. What happens to the unaccompanied alien children that are in federal custody? For now, according to Anderson, minors in federal facilities would not enter the public school population and instead be serviced by private tutors on-site. He added that it unlikely that the minors warehoused in federal or private large scale facilities would be released into the general population to attend a neighborhood school.
Yet, according to the TEA, Dallas ISD had agreed to take the 2,000 unaccompanied alien children that Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins acted unilaterally in his attempt to shelter them over three North Texas facilities until a July 31 surprise announcement to nix the plans, which Breitbart Texas reported.
“The big question mark right now involves the wave of children who are still in detention facilities. Is the federal government going to require that thosechildren be educated by local school districts? What are the expectations on that front?,” Acuna told KVUE.
In response to the outstanding unknown and unaccountable factors, Bonnen posed during Anderson’s testimony, “I think we are going to start have our school districts ask these questions.”
For now, the official number is 4,280. The rest remains to be seen, although it will not be easy to find out. Anderson brought up the “Dear Colleague” warning letter that the federal government issued on May 8 reminding school districts that they are required to enroll and educate. This letter was the focus of the Breitbart Texas article “Tsunami of Foreign Minors To Hit Public Schools, Texas Officials Silent.”
Under the Obama administration, this joint letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice referenced the U.S. Supreme Court 1982 ruling in “Plyler v. Doe” that made it federal law for American public schools to educate children and young adults illegally in the United States.
Interestingly, the letter extended the protections of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act (1964), and Titles IV and VI to illegal immigrant children. This legislation was intended to protect American minority students from discrimination. Andersonurged the House committee to read the “Dear Colleague” letter. An almost identical “Dear Colleague” letter was issued to schools in May, 2011.
Another major concern has been diseases being brought across the border, which Breitbart Texas has reported extensively. Breitbart News also examined the spread of communicable diseases. Although not a part of Anderson’s testimony, Acuna told KVUE, “I can assure the parents in every district that these are the types of conversations that are taking place right now with the Texas Education Agency staff, with department of health staff, with the Department of Public Safety under the direction of the governor’s office.”
He added, “These are the types of issues we want to address right now, and have been looking at for some weeks now, to make sure that we’re prepared if there’s an influx, whatever that number may be, to address all the issues and all the concerns.”
Following the day-long meeting, Bonnen told Breitbart Texas, “In light of Washington’s failure, Texas has two choices: either spend our money now onborder security, or spend even more later on services like education that we are federally required to provide. The education costs alone could be $100 millionor more per year. That’s why we can’t wait for Washington to act. Every dollar we spend to secure the border will make our communities safer and save Texastaxpayers money down the road.”
In addition to Anderson, other invited testimony that was heard during the day was from Colonel Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety; Major General John Nichols, Texas Adjutant General of the Texas Military Forces; Colonel Craig Hunter, Director of Law Enforcement for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; and Dr. Kyle Janek, Executive Commissioner and Dr. David Lakey, Commissioner, both from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The House committee was headed up by Speaker Pro Tempore Bonnen. Committee members were representatives Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, MyraCrownover of Denton, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Donna Howard of Austin, Oscar Longoria of Mission, Marisa Marquez of El Paso, Sergio Munoz, Jr. of Palmview, John Otto of Dayton, Sylvester Turner of Houston and John Zerwas of Simonton.
The purpose of the committee was to review and evaluate any support that Texas receives from the federal government to address this issue and study the influx’s effect on resources available to local governments. The committee’s objective was to determine the long-term budgetary effect of efforts to ensureTexans’ safety, according to an internal communications press release.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.