NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Lee's education savings account legislation has come under fire from a national group favoring strict curbs on immigration which charges the Republican's school voucher proposal will "inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens."
The Federation for American Immigration Reform noted Lee, a Republican, pledged in his 2018 campaign that he would "oppose" policies that "would make Tennessee a magnet for illegal immigration."
"Despite his promise to dry up incentives attracting illegal aliens to the United States, Governor Lee's Education Savings Plan will inevitably provide school vouchers for illegal aliens," FAIR charged.
Citing a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held undocumented children are entitled to a free public education under equal protection the Constitution's equal protection clause, FAIR said as a result, public schools stopped asking about students' immigration status.
"Vouchers use taxpayer funds and the Pyler holding prohibits school systems from determining which students are illegally in the U.S. Therefore, taxpayer monies can and will be provided for vouchers for illegal alien."
Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said in response to FAIR's criticism that "this plan is about strengthening Tennessee public education and providing opportunity for students in low-performing schools. It does not impact our immigration laws."
FAIR's criticisms were first reported by The Tennessee Journal.
Lee's voucher proposal is aimed at current public school students or children about to enter a Tennessee school for the first time. It would impact children whose parents live in local school districts with at least three schools in the bottom 10 percent in terms of student performance and also meet certain income qualifications.
It would award an average of $7,300 directly to the parents that they would use on private school tuition as well as for associated education costs including tutoring, transportation, school uniforms and computers.
Lee wants to devote $125 million in public funds over a five-year period to the program. Up to 15,000 students would be eligible by Year 5 of the program.
Noting that the Supreme Court's 1981 Plyler decision "prohibits school systems from determining which students are illegally in the U.S.," FAIR says "therefore, taxpayer monies can and will be provided for vouchers for illegal aliens.
"Some might ask, why is this a big deal? If illegal aliens are here and entitled to attend public schools, how will this change anything?" FAIR asked. "Here's the problem – as FAIR noted in its 2017 study, The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers, most illegal alien households don't pay enough taxes to cover the services they consume."
The bottom line, the group said, is it means U.S. citizens and lawfully present immigrants "are shouldering a significant share of the costs associated with educating illegal aliens – many of whom require expensive English as a Second Language instruction."
"If taxpayer-funded education in America's best private schools is not an incentive for would-be illegals to violate our immigration laws, we don't know what is," the group said.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.