Denying access to public education to any child because of his or her actual or perceived legal status is illegal–and the Departments of Justice and Education want to make sure school districts understand this. Today the departments jointly issued a “Dear Colleague” letter informing school districts that they have become aware of enrollment practices that may chill enrollment. Several school districts around the country have added requirements that parents present birth certificates or provide Social Security numbers for children when enrolling. The letter makes clear that such practices are illegal, both under the 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe and under lower court rulings blocking some provisions in Arizona and Alabama anti-illegal immigration laws passed more recently. Districts may still require proof of residency in the district, which might include utility bills or other proof that the family actually lives within the attendance zone for the school.
While anti-immigration groups will complain about this new effort by the feds, in fact it is nothing new and will ensure that children–many if not most of whom are US citizens–receive the education they need to become fully participating members of their communities. In most states, property taxes provide the bulk of funding for education. All persons–renters as well as home owners–pay real estate taxes that fund schools, so the argument that the children of illegal immigrants are free loaders is inaccurate.