- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday said Frederick County officials are prohibited by federal law from seeking a count of how many illegal immigrants are in the county school system.

In its seven-page unanimous decision, the state board said county officials haven’t shown sufficient reason to look into the legal status of all of the students in the school system and that asking immigration status might discourage some parents from enrolling their children in schools.

“As the head of the public education system in Maryland, we cannot risk nor abide such a request,” the board said in its ruling.

Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for Frederick County Public Schools, said school officials were “pleased” with the decision.

“I think that in the end, the real winners are the children who immigrate to Frederick County from other countries eager to take advantage of public education,” she said.

Frederick County Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins, a Republican who sought the information from the school system, disagreed with the board’s conclusions, saying board members were attacking a straw-man argument that the county commissioners never made.

“They said that we would withhold funding based on results of the count,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in 1982 that if schools offer public education to any student, they must offer it to all students. The court also ruled that students have no control over their immigration status and can´t be punished for their parents´ decisions to move here illegally.

“What the Supreme Court says is that you cannot deny the public education. The same Supreme Court decision doesn’t talk about [the Board of Education’s] ability to provide information,” Mr. Jenkins said.

Mr. Jenkins said that if the number of illegal immigrants in the school system were known, taxpayers would know more about where their money is going. He also said that if the head count were taken, the county could ask the federal government to help fund the education of those without legal status.

In the 2007-08 school year, the county’s public schools educated more than 40,000 students, according to the system’s Web site. The district spends more than $10,000 per pupil, according to the site.

Knowing how many people in the school system are illegal immigrants should also help the county diagnose its budget issues, he said.

“We can put some pressure on some people higher up on the food chain and get the government to compensate us to educate this population because of their unwillingness and inability to secure the border,” he said.

He said that the board was “looking for justification to say no.” The Board of County Commissioners has not yet decided whether it wants to appeal the ruling.

Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins - not to be confused with Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins - also supports the head count to obtain information on students’ legal status. He said that no one wants to know any names of illegals, but just the “raw numbers.”

He said the government should have a responsibility to the people to compensate for its mistakes regarding illegal immigration.

“You could make the argument to the federal government that if they choose not to fix the immigration problem at a federal level, we should have the right to ask the federal government for more money, based on the number of students who don’t have legal status,” he said.

Delegate Richard B. Weldon Jr. - Frederick independent who voiced an interest in sponsoring a bill to conduct the count last year - said that until even a “ballpark number” is established, the state will never know how significant illegal immigration is in Maryland schools.

“Until a mechanism is created to count or estimate, we’ll just have an endless back-and-forth between both sides. We should settle the significance of the student population, and some form of count or number seems like the only way to get there.”

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