“Schools wouldn’t be closed if we didn’t have to pay for those immigrant children,” I recently read. I suspect the author of the quote actually means non-white and non-Asian children, but there is no way to know. The author of this quote lives in Palo Alto, an affluent neighborhood who spends $16,000 per student, well above the national average of $12,612. White and Asian students make up more than 70% of the students in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The “immigrant” children aren’t keeping schools closed.
Not only is this offensive on multiple levels, it is just plain wrong. The issues with schools, now and in normal times, is not funding to educate the immigrant children. Ten percent of students in the United States are ELLs (English Language Learners). In California and Texas, ELLs make up 19.2 and 18% of students respectively. In Vermont and New Hampshire, less than 3% of students are ELLs. It is important to note that according to the Pew Research Center 72% of ELL students were born in the United States i.e. they aren’t immigrants. In 2016 approximately $150 was designated per each ELL.
It isn’t that we are spending so much money on “immigrant” or ELLs who are mostly not immigrants, it is that we refuse to invest long-term in the funding in our schools and our children. The infrastructure of schools is in desperate need of an upgrade. Policy makers have neglected school infrastructure for decades. You might recall the story from January 2018 of students attending school in Baltimore huddled in their coats because of lack of heat. More than 1/3 of the schools had no heat in the cold days of winter. Then there are stories of rodent infested schools in Chicago, ceilings with mold and wasps nests, and lack of books from all over the country. It has been decades of neglecting schools. We simply don’t invest in our children. We expect them to learn no matter what the conditions.
So, when policy makers talk about opening the schools safely, it goes beyond masks and disinfectant. This is the day to think long-term. We need to spend what the NEA estimates to be $46 billion on schools to bring them up to modern building standards. Every school should be a welcoming safe environment to learn. This is not about getting the kids in the classroom today, it is about investing in their future.