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Progressive Perspective | Washington State Cuts Education For American Children, Ignores Immigration Dimension
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June 15, 2011, 05:00 AM
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I was recently part of a rather long line of parents waiting, some overnight, to secure their children a place in school next year.

The State of Washington, where I live, is having severe financial problems. Significant educational cuts are looming. Programs like the "Parent Partnership" school where I send my children—it`s a variety of alternative school in which exceptional parental involvement is expected—are expecting cuts of 20%.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire—a former teacher who literally burst into tears when announcing cuts to education— has just announced she is not running for re-election. She seems likely to fail upward into the Obama Administration.

Why is our school, with some of the highest science test scores in Washington State (and one of the few such schools that obtains these scores without requiring an entrance exam for students) having its budget cut? Why is a program that serves students with medical problems that make attending school five days per week difficult (one of my daughter`s friends has cerebral palsy, another disabling migraine) being targeted?  WWhy is a school with exceptional behavior standards targeted? What is it that led to the huge budget deficits—and looming cuts—in Washington State?

Those questions are complex. However, about 3-4% of the of overall K-12 spending in Washington State goes to funding education for illegal immigrants and the US born "anchor baby" children of illegal immigrants. (Note that these figures do not include the cost of educating children of temporary workers—say, the H-1b indentured workers shipped in by Intel and Microsoft to eliminate the need for US engineers—and the children associated with increases in legal immigration since the 60`s.) But, although education funding dominates the politics of this "red" state, the immigration dimension is never mentioned.

The unskilled foreign workers commonly employed by orchards and agribusiness in Eastern Washington simply do not pay enough taxes to pay for the government services they use. But that really isn`t the full measure of the fiscal impact of immigration. Immigration tends to move US wages towards world market wages. It would be possible to replace virtually all American workers with equivalently skilled workers from India or China for about 13% of present wages. Obviously, this reduces the tax base.

Immigrants rarely bring substantial capital to the US. Thus, the only increase in tax revenues results from increase in overall economic activity and increases in property values.  However, we don`t even necessarily see an increase in economic activity proportionate to immigration-driven population growth. Jobs growth simply hasn`t kept up with immigration in recent decades. US citizens have been systematically moved into unemployment, early retirement, disability receipt or the black/gray markets—and many who do have jobs have worse ones than they did years earlier.

Lower-end and mid-range housing prices largely reflect the purchasing power of workers. Yes, there were increases in property values. But the bulk of increase in personal wealth since the expansion of immigration in late the 1960s has been captured by the small fraction of very wealthy Americans—those most able to used political maneuvers to isolate themselves from tax increases.

Thus public funding available per American citizen student has decreased, as has disposable income among middle class families.

Although the wealth of the top one percent of US society has risen greatly the last 30 years, it isn`t like the wealthy investors have really done anything to create wealth as a group. I believe all increases of assets of those with net worth over $5 million per family the last 45 years can be explained completely by "trickle-up" effects associated with the combination of:

  1. transfer of the value of citizenship via mass immigration(and decrease of differences in US wages compared to world market wages) from the broad-based populations into the pockets of the wealthy

  2. the Reagan/Bush tax cuts.

So we are faced in Washington State with severe cuts in education driven to a significant extent by the need to respond to failed federal immigration policies that are themselves driven by donations from the very wealthy; and by religious tribalism.

The education spending cuts in Washington State are, of course, politically skewed. They tend to avoid impacting the children of immigrants and the wages of teachers, members of unions that Democrat politicians depend upon so heavily.

Alternative schools are less likely than average to employ teacher union members, or to educate children of immigrants. Parent-partnership schools in particular are also more likely to educate either the children of socially conservative Republicans (think Christian home-schoolers) or leftists dissatisfied with the Democratic Party (think Nader/Kucinich supporters) than the general population. Both groups are vulnerable to the ire of a union-bossed Democratic legislature—where the only "opposition" is usually conventional Republicans principally concerned with cutting taxes to enrich the wealthy.

Personally, as a progressive, I support increasing overall educational expenditures. I believe children of both legal and illegal immigrants in the US—and even those recently deported from the U.S, see below—should be well educated.

But the question is: who should pay for it? It is simply unfair to US children that the education of immigrant children should be paid for out of general tax revenues. In Washington State, local governments are largely limited to property tax revenue. Does an influx of lower-paid labor increase the value of property in the school districts where that labor is located? I doubt it. The state government does have additional revenues for education, including a sales tax. About a third of all education expenses in Washington State are provided by the state, as opposed to local governments.  Illegal immigration might possibly increase the state`s sales tax revenues, but only marginally.

My conclusion: The employers of immigrants—and those who invest in the employers of immigrants—can and should be required to pay the full cost of whatever immigration they profit from.

That means obtaining whatever extra revenues are necessary to provide a first-class education to these children while they are in the US. In the case of illegal immigrants, those fees would probably need to be especially high. Illegal immigrants generally have more problems of poverty than legal immigrants—and often require educational staff fluent in Spanish or other languages. 

Also, I believe that a humane policy of enforcement of US immigration laws should assure that children affected by deportation of their parents do not have their education disrupted—employers and investors benefiting from their parents illegal labor should be required to fund special services back in their home countries.

The recent Supreme Court decision on the Arizona immigration law suggests that states have a lot more flexibility in regulating local employers than was previously believed. Why shouldn`t employers (and their investors) who are convicted of violating US immigration laws be required to pay fees roughly equivalent to the cost per worker of educational expenses?

This could well mean seizing property involved in employment of illegal immigrants (including the equity of banks that facilitate illegal immigration by providing mortgages to immigration law violators).

Handling the long term results of post-1960s mass immigration—and more recent expansion of temporary worker visas—is going to be difficult. But it would help if we take the few basic steps outlined above.

Any accountability for increased education expenses on the part of the wealthy interests that profit from mass immigration is plausible without substantial changes to the US political system.  We`d need to take money out of politics, contain  de facto bribery of governmental officials—and maybe even move into a more democratic electoral system , for example proportional representation.

I also believe social conservatives need to seriously reconsider their relationship with the wealthy interests that control the GOP. Social conservatives have provided the GOP with mass support in return for little more than a never-kept promise to repeal Roe vs. Wade.

Meanwhile, I got one of my kids a fairly full program in the school of her choice. But my older daughter will need to supplement her curriculum with online courses. (For example, neither our Parent Partnership School nor the local high school now offer second  year Latin).

Fortunately my family has options.  I wish the same could be said for more American children.

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago.  He works in the information technology sector and is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.  Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign`s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.