Limited English Proficiency Enrollment and Rapidly Rising Costs (2007)
The number of students in special English classes is rapidly rising during a period when overall public school enrollment in kindergarten through high school education is slightly declining. Over the ten-year period up to 2005, the number of students registered in Limited English Proficiency (LEP) programs increased by more than 1.2 million students. That was an increase of more than 38 percent and took the total number of students in these programs to nearly 4.5 million persons. Over the same period, total enrollment nationwide dropped by nearly half a million students — a one percent decline.
These programs to assist non-English speakers adapt to the educational environment in public schools are costly to local taxpayers and an added fiscal burden at the national level. In addition, expenditures on these remedial programs may absorb resources that otherwise would be available for native-English speaking students.
The upward trend in LEP enrollment parallels the upward trend in the illegal immigrant population. We estimate that there are more than 3.5 million children of illegal immigrants in K-12 public school classes. While public schooling may not be denied to the children of illegal immigrants under the Plyler v. Doe ruling of the Supreme Court in 1982 — based on an interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — the additional costs of providing English language instruction was not addressed by that ruling. As such, it remains an open issue as to whether a school system has discretion to restrict LEP enrollment to only students who are U.S. citizens and legal residents.
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