Sanctuary city school districts brace for executive order to withhold funds

Several districts announce that children will receive an education regardless of their immigration status
By: | February 10, 2017

School districts in Los Angeles and other sanctuary cities are bracing for an impact from President Trump’s executive order to withhold federal support from sanctuary cities.

LAUSD stands to lose some or even all of its $700 million in federal funding, about 9 percent of its annual budget, says Steve Zimmer, LA’s school board president.

While it’s unclear how much of that federal funding might be at risk, the district intends to remain steadfast in its support of immigrant families, Zimmer says.

“Sure, losing $700 million is scary” says Zimmer, noting no program would be spared cuts and the district would likely need to raise class sizes. “But if we didn’t stand up now and families didn’t feel like the superintendent and the school board president and the mayor were with them, I shudder to think what would happen.”

Several other districts in sanctuary cities—including Des Moines, Denver, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis and the District of Columbia—have issued similar announcements and want immigrant communities to know that their children are welcome and will receive an education regardless of immigration status, according to published reports.

Nearly four million K12 students in 2014—or 7 percent of the U.S. total—were children of unauthorized immigrants, according to Pew Research Center estimates based on government data.

The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment.

Legal help

Meanwhile, the National Immigration Law Center, which defends and advances the rights of low-income immigrants, is helping families, teachers and public school administrators navigate the legal landscape and get the message out to many families that districts are protecting them, according to senior attorney Tanya Broder.

The law center is advising districts to create stronger anti-bullying policies to ensure that students know schools are a safe place and have a right to attend school, Broder says.

And the center’s attorneys are advising districts to reassure worried parents and students that campus police officers or school resources officers are only there to protect them.

Students need to understand that such officers are not an extension of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Homeland Security Department, Broder says.

Such districts in sanctuary cities point to various laws and cases as part of their defense in standing up for children, Zimmer and Broder say. For instance, the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled in 1982 that states cannot deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.

Zimmer says the order is shifting the role of the board and public education—to stand with and build alliances with families.

“We are more than an instructional institution, and to be able to fulfill what I believe to be the core vision of public education, sometimes we have to very intentionally take steps that affirm that” he says. “This is a logical extension of what it means to be an urban public school system in 2017.