The Curriculum Testing and Innovation Subcommittee passed Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher program by a voice vote on March 19. This program allows parents to take their children out of their current public school and enroll them in a private school or another public high school.
A Governor Bill Lee campaign ad asked “Why can’t politicians stop illegal immigration?” and answered, “As a businessman, it seems pretty clear to me. It’s about incentives. Driver’s licenses and free tuition for illegal aliens, lawless sanctuary cities. All policies that would make Tennessee a magnet for illegal immigration. I will oppose every one of them as governor.”
In a much-debated 1981 decision, Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court held that illegal alien children are entitled to a free public education as a matter of equal protection. As a result, public schools stopped asking about students’ immigration status and began treating all children exactly the same as U.S. citizens.
Despite his promise to dry up incentives attracting illegal aliens to the United States, Governor Lee’s Education Savings Plan will inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens. Vouchers use taxpayer funds and the Plyler holding discourages school systems from asking whether students are illegally in the U.S. Therefore, taxpayer monies can and will be provided for vouchers for illegal aliens.
Some might ask, why is this a big deal? If illegal aliens are here and entitled to attend public schools, how will this change anything? Here’s the problem – as FAIR noted in its 2017 study, The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers, most illegal alien households don’t pay enough taxes to cover the services they consume.
And, as FAIR found in its 2016 study, The Elephant in the Classroom: Mass Immigration’s Impact on Public Education, mainly due to unchecked mass migration, nearly one in every ten students enrolled in public schools are designated as “Limited English Proficiency” learners, whose first language is not English. That means taxpaying U.S. citizens and lawfully present immigrants are shouldering a significant share of the costs associated with educating illegal aliens – many of whom require expensive English as a Second Language instruction.
Most school systems fund at least a portion of their operations with a value-based real estate tax. Illegal aliens frequently inhabit the lower end of the income spectrum and don’t own property. Therefore, their contributions to school funding are typically lower than those made by their legal alien or U.S. citizen peers. However, school voucher programs usually pay out a standardized sum, per child, rather than being based on actual tax contributions.
As a result, illegal aliens catch a windfall from school voucher programs, because they end up collecting more money than they paid into the system whenever they receive school vouchers. The same may be true for poorer lawfully present immigrants and cash-strapped U.S. citizens. But most Americans don’t have a problem with their tax dollars lending a hand to those entitled to be in the U.S.
However, they also believe that those who violate our immigration laws should not be entitled to public benefits. And when American schools are struggling with everything from gang violence to plummeting test scores, average Americans particularly resent being asked to fund private education for school-aged-citizens of foreign countries, who have no right to be here.
Based on the Plyler decision, illegal alien children may have a “right” to a free public education. However, those who are unlawfully residing in the United States have no right to expect to be allowed to attend any school they choose, including private institutions, with taxpayers kicking in a sizeable share of the tuition. If taxpayer- subsidized education in America’s high-quality private schools is not an incentive for would-be illegals to violate our immigration laws, we don’t know what is.