Immigrant students without documentation have a constitutional right to attend elementary
and secondary public schools for free. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982 settled the issue.
In 1975, Texas revised their state education regulations to withhold funds for students not legally in the United States and let school administrators deny enrolment to these students. At the same time, a school district attempted to charge a $1,000 tuition fee to each undocumented student to recoup the cost of educating such students.
Both actions were struck down in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found such laws were "directed against children...." To deny K-12 children a free public education would "...impose its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control."
To put it in the context of today’s charged illegal immigration war, children are "innocents."
The Supreme Court based its decision on the Fourteenth Amendment that provides equal protection for all people within a state’s jurisdiction. Texas attempted unsuccessfully to portray illegal immigrant children as not under their jurisdiction. The Supreme Court disagreed and observed that denying undocumented children an education would lead to "the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime." The Supreme Court specifically rejected the claim by Texas that it had a bonafide goal to relieve the state of added, unique costs of educating undocumented immigrants.
School administrators, school boards, and school attorneys are usually familiar with the ramifications of the Plyler ruling that prevents any action that might "chill" undocumented children from participating in K-12 education. These students can fully participate in extracurricular activities, receive school services for which other students qualify, etc. While a school district does have a concern and duty to determine if a child resides within the school district, this does not extend to verifying immigrant status. Readers who want a readable explanation of the legal details can consult the online resources of the National School Board Association.
With a shift in the Kansas political landscape, it is likely that some folks will come up with knee-jerk proposals to save the educational costs of educating undocumented K-12 children. These folks have failed to do their homework. Understanding this U.S. Supreme Court ruling can go a long way toward avoiding a pointless and distracting debate. The issue of state K-12 school funding will not be solved on the backs of innocent immigrant students.