Feds, state to VA schools: Law says educate undocumented children


UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS: The feds and state are reminding local school districts that they have to educate illegal immigrant students who have come over the border like they would any legal citizens, something that will likely cost millions of dollars.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — With less than a month until school starts in September, Virginia taxpayers will be footing the bill for some of the thousands of undocumented school-age children who have come here in recent months.

The Virginia Department of Education is echoing the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education in saying that schools “may not deny a free public education to undocumented school-age children who reside within their jurisdiction because they do not hold valid United States citizenship or a student visa.”

Last month, the VDOE sent memos to school superintendents reiterating the Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe, which said children have equal access to basic education, regardless of citizenship status.

And on Tuesday morning, the VDOE clarified in another email to school superintendents that undocumented minors, if unaccompanied and unsupervised, should be treated as homeless students and thus, granted an education without requiring proof of residing in the district.

“While a case-by-case review of each child’s circumstances upon enrolling in a Virginia public school is necessary, many of these unaccompanied children will be deemed homeless under applicable state and federal law,” reads an email to school superintendents from VDOE’s Juanita McHale on behalf of VDOE Superintendent Steven Staples. “School divisions must immediately enroll homeless students, even if those students are unable to produce the records required for enrollment.”

Those emails were sparked by an inquiry from one school division in southwest Virginia, according to Charles Pyle, director of communications for the VDOE. Pyle said he wasn’t sure which school division asked for clarification.

While some children may enroll in Virginia’s school systems unaccompanied, many others will enroll after being united with relatives.

From Jan. 1 to July 7, the federal government has placed 2,234 undocumented minors with a sponsor — generally, a relative — in Virginia.

The state spends about $10,500 per pupil, and illegal immigrant students are no exception.

Last week on a radio program, a listener asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe how he planned to address the immigration issue in terms of jobs and schools. But the governor didn’t directly answer the question, dubbing it a federal issue and saying, Virginia “doesn’t have a problem.”

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.