- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Education officials across the country are in the process of testing their old and new math skills as annual back-to-school rituals begin taking shape.

On individual schools’ and school districts’ resource ledgers, there are textbooks, computers, personnel head counts, school buses and routes, lockers, desks and chairs, chalk, blackboards and audio-visual equipment.

You know, the stuff that makes a school a school — an appropriate learning environment for the young people who cross the schoolhouse threshold.

And then come the young people — the intended recipients of public education dollars who put those ‘readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic skills to the real test.

Who, exactly, are the recipients?

Unfortunately, in many instances, we may not know.

School officials can’t necessarily ask foreign-born children who they really are, and the young people’s caretakers don’t necessarily want you to know.

The headline on an Aug. 18 press release speaks volumes: “Influx of Illegal Immigrant Children Likely to Strain Public Schools.” It was distributed by Project 21, a public-policy collective that focuses on black conservatives.

Forthwith, some of the highlights in the press release:

• The new recipients: An estimated 90,000 unaccompanied children may illegally cross America’s threshold by Sept. 30, and that number is projected to hit 142,000 in 2015. Neither figure represents immigrant children with parents or other relatives already here in the States.

• The new policies: In a nutshell, the federal government has said open all public schoolhouse doors to immigrant children, even if you do not know who they are. And whatever you do, do not ask about immigration status. Period. That public policy was reinforced in a springtime “Dear Colleague” letter that federal authorities sent to school authorities across the nation. The Obama administration threatened to throw down the Justice Department gauntlet if state authorities and/or local school districts violate federal policies regarding education.

A black conservative underscored the contrariness of the policy.

“The sad irony is that American mothers being criminalized for wanting better schools for their kids are black and they pay taxes. Illegal immigrants do not. Also disturbing is the idea that school district officials aren’t permitted to even inquire about legal status,” said Project 21 member Stacy Washington, a mother, former school board member and St. Louis radio talk show host, who was quoted in Monday’s press release.

• The new problems: State authorities and teachers unions have been crying uncle about class sizes, and the new school year has yet to even sweep across the nation.

“[T]he 2011-2012 average class size for grades K-3 in the state of California was 22.2, and was 23.9 for the same grades in New York City,” Project 21 said. “An unplanned increase of students into schools without budgets for or plans to hire new teachers means classroom sizes will inevitably increase.”

• The new conundrums: With at least 2,200 new potential students in Maryland, the unanswered questions just keep on coming. Have the immigrant children ever been to school? Can they prove it or will school districts have to start testing at the enrollment level to get a handle on where these children stand academically? If states don’t know to expect the young people, how are they supposed to plan by semester, let alone an entire school year or an entire fiscal year?

• New public safety issue: If school authorities do not know who these young people and young adults are, how do they know they are not harboring serious criminals or thieves who have stolen a child’s identity?

• New public health issues: Immunizations. Hidden health issues. Ignorance.

• The new costs: Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said a few weeks ago that at least 117 illegal immigrant children recently relocated to that state, but that the federal government will not release any information on their locations. Closer to the ground was Donald Hattier, a school board member in the Indian River School District, who laid bare the new costs to him and other taxpayers: “This is going to cost us an arm and a leg. I think they’re going to load us up.”

The 2014-15 school year is shaping up to be like no other in recent memory.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.