Yesterday, we here at WPRI released the results of a poll that showed strong public opposition to various state benefits for illegal immigrants. According to the poll, 76% of Wisconsin residents oppose allowing illegal immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses, 86% oppose giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition, and 46% disapprove of “illegal immigrant children” attending public schools.
It’s interesting to see such stringent opposition to illegal immigrant benefits. What’s more interesting, however, is examining how the education questions relate to one another – there are connections that should be examined beyond just looking at the numbers.
As you can see, there’s a big difference between what respondents thought about children and adult illegal immigrants. It appears that there’s a gap of people more willing to forgive illegal immigrant children than their parents. To them, it likely makes sense that children shouldn’t pay for the mistakes their parents make.
Yet these elementary school children will grow up and go to college. And many of them will be the same kids that the public feels strongly should not get in-state tuition. Presumably, that would mean they would have to pay out of state tuition or be denied entry into a state school altogether. In other words, their education would likely end at a high school degree.
In fact, elementary school students receive a much larger public subsidy than University of Wisconsin students. If the public was concerned about tax money being used to subsidize illegal immigrants, elementary school per-pupil spending should logically be the more difficult subsidy to stomach, considering per-pupil aid is so much greater.
Of course, the difficult question of why illegal immigrant children should be allowed to attend public elementary and high schools, but not colleges, is left up to the people who support the former but not the latter. It appears that 46% of people oppose any and all concession to illegal immigrants, not matter what the age – and another 10% side with the illegal immigrants on all issues. (I am assuming, of course, that there aren’t a lot of people who oppose elementary school subsidies but support taxpayer aid for college.) It would be interesting to listen to the rationale of the people in the middle – who may support one, but not the other – and why.
Most likely, respondents probably viewed illegal immigrants trying to attend the UW as trying to mooch off the system after they crossed the border. It’s unlikely that they understood that many of these kids are actually graduating from Wisconsin public schools. Of course, this is the same rationale Governor Jim Doyle has used in pushing for his plan to give illegal immigrants the ability to pay in-state tuition.
It would seem, then, that to make his plan more viable, Doyle could implement a provision that requires an illegal immigrant spend a more substantial amount of time in a Wisconsin public school before being eligible for in-state tuition (his plan as introduced in the 2007-09 budget had a one-year residency requirement). If a kid were required to spend four years in a public school, the public might feel a little different about their tuition eligibility – as they would be assured the student isn’t just taking advantage of the system.
Of course, even if such a concession were made, 46% of the public appears to be against any type of compromise. So it would still be a large mountain to climb. But it may be enough to begin to convince the gap of people who believe there’s a benefit to educating the children of illegals at some level.