A writer for a Washington, D.C.-based anti-immigration group has weighed in on Governor Bill Lee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) plan that is slated for a House Education Committee vote next Wednesday. The Federation for American Immigration Reform has posted a piece by Jennifer G. Hickey, one of their web content writers, claiming that the Tennessee school “voucher” plan will provide taxpayer funded K-12 education access to illegal immigrants.
It will. It’s the law; and has been since a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, determined that illegal alien children are entitled to a free public education as a matter of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Thus, illegal alien children in Tennessee WILL have the same access to public school funding regardless of whether they are provided that access through traditional public schools, charter schools, education savings accounts or vouchers. Nevertheless, neither Ohio nor Florida, which have instituted more generous voucher programs than the Lee ESA choice program, have had ever had a problem with a high proportion of illegals participating.
Hickey expressed specific concern that illegal aliens will get an added financial benefit from “vouchers” that are not available to legal citizens:
Most school systems fund their operations with a value-based real estate tax. Illegal aliens typically 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.
She is apparently unaware that Tennessee’s funding of the ESA program will primarily come from the State, which collects revenue from taxpayers via sales taxes — an arguably regressive tax that actually does produce revenue from lower income residents — and illegals. And neither the current per pupil expenditures nor the voucher plan are based upon calculating tax contributions by parents of children attending school and commensurate sliding scale of spending for those children. Also, the Governor’s ESA proposal is not a broad-based open-ended “voucher” plan, so that term is not really applicable either.
Finally, the per pupil expenditures for public students statewide (approximately $9,500 exclusive of capital expenditures) are over $2,000 more than the proposed $7,300 per child ESA funding amount. So, Tennessee taxpayers will actually SAVE money when, and if, illegal alien children use the ESA funds. Because the ESA system is limited to the five largely urban counties (Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Madison, and Hamilton) that have even higher per pupil costs, the savings gap will be even greater than the margin between the ESA funds and the statewide average.
There may be valid concerns and questions about the details of the Governor’s ESA plan and the Amendments that are currently being developed regarding the legislation. However, the fear that illegal aliens and their children will be drawn to some of the worst performing school districts in the state in order to get “vouchers” that provide less funding than most of the private schools will charge, and require additional funds that those families are unlikely to afford, is not a fear based on facts.
Tennessee taxpayers are funding free public education for illegal alien children in all 95 counties right now, because the law requires it. That will continue whether or not the ESA plan is instituted in five of those counties or not.
The irony is that the teachers’ union (TEA) promoting this bogus argument is the same group that hypocritically opposes efforts to secure our borders and reduce the flood of illegals entering our country and whose children are pouring into our schools. If the teachers’ union (TEA) was really concerned about taxpayers funding free education for children of illegal aliens, rather than opposing a program that can free thousands of Tennessee children from the failing schools they have helped produce, they would be supporting efforts to reduce illegal immigration. They are not.
The Tennessee Star contacted FAIR’s press office Monday afternoon and was told that Hickey’s piece properly expressed their concern about the Lee ESA plan and their ongoing belief that while the Supreme Court has ruled that children of illegal aliens are entitled to a free public education that does not necessarily extend to providing vouchers for private school education, which FAIR opposes.
Steve Gill is Political Editor for The Tennessee Star and host of the Tennessee Star Report that airs weekdays from 5-8 am on 1510am/98.3 FM WLAC in Nashville.