Saturday, September 19, 2020


Article Index

C. Undocumented Students and the Educational Budget Drain

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court found that a state's denial of a free public education to any student on the basis of citizenship was unconstitutional. In Plyler v. Doe the Supreme Court noted that: (1) there was no explicit congressional statement excluding illegal immigrant children from free education; (2) the state's argument of preserving limited resources for education for lawful residents was insufficient; and (3) there was insufficient basis to support the state's claim that it had an interest in protecting itself from an influx of illegal immigration. The Supreme Court further explained that there was no evidence that illegal immigration placed a burden on the Texas economy and this local attempt to combat illegal immigration was ineffective.

California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey are the states with the highest concentrations of illegal immigrants. The Urban Institute's estimates, based on U.S. Census data, are that there are 1.6 million children of illegal immigrants under the age of 18 in the United States. In Texas, a former Comptroller of Public Accounts estimated the cost of educating the state's undocumented immigrant children at $957 million for 2004 2005. Another study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) puts the cost of educating undocumented immigrant children in Texas at $4 billion. The United States Department of Education reported the total expenditures for educating all Texas children at $30.9 billion for 2003 2004. With the current data, from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and FAIR, total expenditures for educating Texas' illegal immigrant children are between 3 percent and 5.4 percent of the total cost of educating all Texas children.

This evaluation seems to re-enforce the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Plyler that preserving limited resources for education of lawful residents is insufficient. The cost to each of the 23 million Texans is eleven to twenty cents a day to educate the undocumented children of Texas. In our society the benefits of educating all children outweighs the costs of educating children of undocumented immigrants by providing a more productive group of citizens.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law