Arizona's Illegal Immigration Debate and the Impact on Education
Arizona’s immigration policy has sparked a national debate, prompted lawsuits, and convinced additional political leaders throughout the nation that their state needs immigration reform too. At last count a total of forty-five states have at least looked at immigration reform in recent months. This article will focus on how SB 1070, the Arizona budget crisis, and the state’s sales tax referendum have impacted education in the state.
Arizona is and has been facing huge budget deficits, and schools are feeling the crunch as funding continues to be slashed. Across the state, most districts are making some or all of these changes in an effort to stay afloat:
· Increase class sizes
· Cut all-day kindergarten
· Lay off teachers, assistants, and administration
· Eliminate after-school programs and certain sports
· Charge additional fees for sports, clubs, and after-school programs
· Cut pay for teachers, assistants, and administration
To say the least, the last year was a difficult one for most school districts in Arizona. Education in Arizona, across the board, has taken a big hit. The hit has been so large that Arizona taxpayers, typically very conservative when it comes to new taxes, supported a referendum to raise our state’s sales tax by one cent, for three years, in an effort to raise money for education. Our state’s governor, Jan Brewer, is famous for supporting the state’s new immigration law, the law that rekindled national debate over the entire topic. In Arizona, she’s also well known for supporting the referendum to increase the sales tax in an effort to adequately fund our schools. This highly uncharacteristic support for increased taxes was unanticipated and unsupported by other conservative political leaders in the state, specifically Jon Kyl and John McCain. Needless to say, Governor Brewer succeeded in passing both the new immigration policy and the additional sales tax, both pieces of legislation that will have a large impact on education within Arizona.
It’s pretty hard to determine how many illegal aliens are in Arizona, but 500,000 is a conservative number. Illegal aliens typically don’t pay federal or state taxes, the two largest sources of revenue for education. When we educate illegal aliens, the money has to come from somewhere. It comes from the taxpayers’ pockets. Funding for schools in Arizona is based on average daily attendance for the first hundred days of school each year. Generally speaking, each child in attendance generates roughly $5,000 for the school district. Assuming that 500,000 is the correct number of illegal aliens in Arizona and that only a fourth of our illegal aliens are children in public schools, that means that Arizona taxpayers are paying 625 million dollars each year to educate the children of illegal aliens. This is a conservative estimate of losses. Remember that Arizona is a small state when it comes to population, so it’s a lot of money for our state. Arizona’s population is just over 5 million. Actually, it’s probably about 5,500,000. I forgot to add an additional 500,000 to represent the illegal aliens in our state. That’s roughly ten percent of our entire population! Unfortunately, the 625 million dollars only represents the total cost to educate illegal aliens. It doesn’t include additional costs, law enforcement being among the largest. Simply put, many people in Arizona feel that the state can’t continue to bear the brunt of this enormous cost.
These are small numbers when you look at the national cost of illegal immigration. A study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform indicates that the national cost, including education and all other costs associated with illegal immigration, is right around 113 billion dollars per year. The cost is staggering. Consequently, additional states are beginning to look at adopting laws that are similar to Arizona’s, forty-five states at last count.
Arizona’s budget deficit, one that existed under both a democrat and a republican governor, resulted in such severe cuts to education that the sales tax increase was largely considered a necessity by the voters. The budget deficit may have also spurred the illegal immigration debate. Supporters on both sides of the issue are speaking up, and the result has been a heated debate and even lawsuits to end the new immigration laws in Arizona. Polls suggest that the vast majority of Americans support legal immigration. I haven’t seen any polls to suggest what people think about educating illegal immigrants’ children in America, but I can tell you that many of Arizona’s legislators and citizens feel that America should not and can’t afford to pay to educate everybody who lives in our country, regardless of citizenship. What do you think?
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