Illegal Immigrant Children Cost Arizona Public Schools Over $748 Million in 2020

Illegal Immigrant Children Cost Arizona Public Schools Over $748 Million in 2020

By Corinne Murdock |

In 2020, illegal immigrants cost Arizona public schools over $748 million — an economic burden that will likely increase due to the ongoing border crisis. 99 percent of these funds come from Arizona taxpayers’ local and state taxes, not the federal government. 

The cost estimate comes from a report released this month by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Despite the hundreds of millions poured into these limited English proficiency (LEP) programs, only 32 percent (about 23,900) of illegal immigrant students in Arizona graduate on time. 

As of 2020, there were over 74,800 LEP students. That’s just over half of a percent of the total student population at most: 1.1 million. Nationwide, that number is 5.1 million students costing taxpayers over $78 billion. 

Under President Joe Biden, there have been over 277,300 accompanied minors and unaccompanied children that crossed the border illegally. That doesn’t account for those apprehended minors within family units, nor does it account for gotaways.

The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) handles LEP students, which they refer to as English Learners (EL), through their Office of English Language Acquisition Services (OELAS). Arizona schools’ LEP programs are known as Structured English Immersion (SEI) programs. 

In May, the ADE invested $10 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to train teachers for SEI programs. 

ADE Superintendent Kathy Hoffman opposes the SEI programs. Hoffman supported Arizona legislators’ efforts to repeal Proposition 203, which has required Arizona schools to educate EL students in English only since 2000, not their native language. 

American schools weren’t always required to provide taxpayer-funded public education to illegal immigrant children. That changed in 1982 when the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled in Plyler v. Doe that illegal immigrant children were entitled to public schooling. 

The taxpayer burden of illegal immigrant education may not end with K-12 schools. Come November, voters must decide whether to approve Proposition 308, which will grant in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants so long as they’ve graduated from an Arizona high school.

The state legislature approved the resolution last year through the combined efforts of Arizona House Democrats and several House Republicans: State Representatives Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), Joel John (R-Buckeye), David Cook (R-Globe), and Joanne Osborne (R-Goodyear). 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to