- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Immigration is to blame for school overcrowding, and if the flow of immigrants is not cut it will account for 96 percent of the future increase in the school-age population over the next 50 years, a report released by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) concluded.

The report, "No Room to Learn: Immigration and School Overcrowding," showed that the school-age population will increase to 68.8 million by 2050 if immigration continues at its current rate. As a result, efforts to reduce class size and ease overcrowding two of the biggest problems facing the nation's schools today will fail, the report said.

With zero net migration, the school-age population in 50 years would stay close to the current level: 53.6 million, the report showed.

"Education experts are united in their belief that reducing school and class size are imperative if we are to improve the quality of the education our children receive," said Dan Stein, executive director of FAIR, a nonprofit group that supports immigration reform.

"This goal can never be accomplished if the federal government is not willing to do its part by stopping illegal immigration and reducing today's massive levels of legal immigration."

Currently, U.S. school enrollment is at 53.1 million students. Between 1990 and 2000, enrollment increased by 14 percent. One in five elementary and high school students, or 10.1 million, has an immigrant parent, and one-quarter of these children were born outside the United States.

Meanwhile, teachers have been complaining that classes are too large to be managed effectively and they can't help students who need extra attention. Some 14 percent of the nation's schools are exceeding capacity by 6 percent to 25 percent, and 8 percent exceed capacity by more than 25 percent, the report showed.

To ease overcrowding, more than one-third of schools use trailers as classrooms and one-fifth hold classes in cafeterias or gyms. In Arizona, some 700 elementary school children attend classes in an old grocery store after their schools run out of room in their trailers. In other parts of the country, some students begin eating lunch as early as 10:30 a.m. to ease the strain on crowded cafeterias.

FAIR's report drew criticism from civil rights groups, who called the results "just a distraction" and urged FAIR to come up with "real solutions" to overcrowding.

"It's not conceivable that 1.9 million Latino children are responsible for the overcrowding in the U.S. schools," said Lisa Navarrete, vice president for communications at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). "And I think that Americans are still planning to reproduce in the next 50 years, so it's not terribly plausible that only immigrants will account for a 96 percent of the future increase in the school-age population."

Aisha Qaasim, legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), agreed: "The idea that this kind of education reform can somehow be achieved by closing the doors to all immigrants is hollow at best."

Census Bureau figures show that immigration is responsible for almost 70 percent of U.S. population growth since 1990. Immigrants arriving in America since 1994, along with their descendants, will account for two-thirds of future population growth.

Of the 53.4 million school-aged children living here in 2000, 25 percent were born in other countries, and 46 percent were born here but had two immigrant parents, the report showed.

The 15-page report referred to figures released by the U.S. Department of Education, which projected that by 2100, the country's schools will have to find room for 94 million students almost double the number the nation has now.

Enrollment in grades nine to 12 is projected to reach an all-time high of 15.8 million in 2005. Total enrollment will reach 55 million by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.

Educators have said ideal enrollments are no more than 300 students for an elementary school, no more than 500 for a middle school and 600 to 900 for a high school. However, 71 percent of all U.S. high school students attend schools that have more than 1,000 students. The ideal class size is 18 students.

High schools with an estimated 3,000 enrollment are now common in large cities such as Los Angeles and New York. For example, 7 percent of New York City students immigrated to the United States in the past three years. As a result, schools in Queens are now scrambling to find space for 30,000 additional students.

"This is about the quality of education," Mr. Stein said. "And there's really no way out of this equation. Either Congress needs to appropriate enough money to the states to build more schools or it needs to cut immigration."


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