As migrant kids prepare for school, some say not enough done for citizen students



(The Center Square) – As Illinois K-12 schools see year-after-year enrollment declines, Illinois lawmakers are looking at a possible influx of undocumented migrant students.

In 2019, the Illinois State Board of Education showed nearly 2 million students enrolled in Illinois schools. That number dropped to 1.7 million in 2022. With over 10,000 undocumented immigrants arriving to Illinois over the past year from the southern U.S. border, many migrant children are expected to enter the state’s school system in the coming months.

Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Chicago Public Schools officials announced the opening of a welcoming center to get migrant children ready for school.

Last week, lawmakers from an Illinois House education committee laid out how to address the incoming students.

State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr, D-Naperville, told The Center Square that not only will schools see migrants from Mexico and Cuba, but the state will also see migrants from eastern European nations. Yang Rohr said the money is available.

“We will be seeing Russian-speaking students and students coming from Ukraine, and so we made appropriate money for this kind of need in the last budget,” Yang-Rohr said.

Some Republican lawmakers warn taxes could increase to make up for the costs surrounding the education of undocumented migrant children.

“It is not the responsibility of Illinois taxpayers to foot the bill for education costs of people here illegally,” said state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Charleston. “Instead of disregarding federal law, Illinois should be following the law. The solution is to end Illinois’ sanctuary state status and help enforce our nation’s immigration laws.”

State Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg, said that lawmakers have yet to have any official talks about the costs or how to properly integrate the students.

“I don’t know if it is as formal as we would like it to be,” Mussman told The Center Square. “But I think we are all talking with as many people in the shared community space as possible about the issue of more people in the building.”

Illinois State Board of Education numbers also show 7,188 unfilled teaching positions across the state, a vacancy rate of 3.5%

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said regardless of the costs, the state of Illinois has done a poor job supporting the families and students who are here legally.

“It is amazing to me that, on the one hand, our state leaders are spending money we don’t have to educate kids whose parents are not legally supposed to be here, but they won’t extend the Invest in Kids program, which has helped so many kids escape failing schools and get the kind of education they deserve,” Halbrook said. “We are denying education opportunities for Illinois citizens while using taxpayers to make a political statement on immigration policy. It is time for our leaders to lead and put the needs of Illinois citizens first.”

Even without the migrant students being enrolled, Illinois spends on average of more than $16,000 per student, far more than neighboring states.

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