As California Emerges from Budget Crisis, State Education Systems Face Critical Choices at All Levels that Will Have Significant Effects on Students from Immigrant Families
WASHINGTON — As California recovers from a severe budget crisis that hit immigrant students particularly hard, policymakers and education leaders face critical choices with respect to financing, implementation of new academic standards and future directions for the state’s high school, post-secondary and adult education systems. These decisions hold significant implications for the education success and future workforce skills of California’s large and growing population of immigrant and Latino youth, the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy concludes in a new report.
Home to one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants and more than one-third of U.S. students who are English language learners (ELLs), California’s success in integrating immigrants and the children of immigrants into post-secondary education and the workforce is critical not just for the state’s competitiveness but that of the nation as well. More than half of California youth ages 16 to 26 are immigrants or the children of immigrants — compared to one-quarter nationwide — and the state accounts for nearly 30 percent of unauthorized immigrant youth eligible for relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, if they meet educational and other criteria.
“Coming out of a historic recession, California’s education systems are at a watershed, with enormous changes underway affecting funding, governance, standards and accountability at all levels,” said report co-author Sarah Hooker, an MPI policy analyst. “The state’s responses to the recession undercut its performance in educating immigrant youth; whether this record improves will remain in doubt unless the needs of these youth are made a more central focus of reform and accountability efforts.”
The report, Critical Choices in Post-Recession California: Investing in the Educational and Career Success of Immigrant Youth, traces the deep budget cuts that resulted in the loss of 32,000 teachers in the K-12 system, a decline in community college enrollment of nearly 500,000 students and a collapse in funding for adult basic education (as much as 60 percent of state funding for adult ed was redirected to other purposes in 2011-12).
The cuts, some of which the state has begun to reverse, came against the backdrop of major existing education challenges: California ranks 46th nationally in the share of its young adult population with a high school diploma or equivalent; its student-to-guidance counselor ratio is second-highest in the nation; and per-student spending on K-12 education has been below the national average for 25 years. The state, home to the largest number of legal and unauthorized immigrants nationally, is also a top destination for refugees and unaccompanied child migrants, two populations that pose additional challenges for educators.
The study, which provides a cross-system analysis of the educational experiences of California’s first- and second-generation youth, includes a significant focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Oakland, Anaheim, Fullerton and Sanger, where MPI researchers interviewed 125 school district and college administrators and faculty, as well as organizations that serve immigrants.
Drawing on analysis of U.S. Census and state education data, the report — the third of a multi-state series — documents the patterns of low educational attainment among students from immigrant families, identifies barriers to their progress, examines innovative education programs supporting immigrant youth and offers policy recommendations to improve outcomes.
Among the MPI findings:
- Nearly 30 percent of first-generation immigrants in California ages 21 – 26 lack a high school diploma, compared to 13 percent of all youth in the state.
- The four-year high school graduation rate for ELLs in 2013 was 63 percent, compared to 80 percent for all students. There was a wide variation in ELL graduation rates among the school districts studied, ranging from 94 percent in Sanger to 47 percent in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
- While Hispanics comprised 51 percent of high school students in fall 2012, they were only 39 percent of community college students, 33 percent of California State University students and 20 percent of University of California undergraduates. Trends among Asian students differed sharply, with Asians comprising 9 percent of high school students and 33 percent of University of California students.
- California’s second-generation Hispanic youth (the U.S.-born children of immigrants) lag behind other second-generation Hispanics nationally, with 16 percent earning at least a two-year college degree versus 21 percent nationwide in 2009-2013.
The report identifies California’s new funding mechanism for K-12 education as a potential lever for school districts to invest in improving the outcomes of ELLs. Under the new policy, extra funds are provided for ELLs and, the authors suggest, can be used to expand the school day and rebuild summer school opportunities. However, the new Local Control Funding Formula, which gives school districts greater autonomy in their spending of state funds and relaxes accountability requirements, could also result in funding choices that do not meet the needs of immigrant and ELL youth.
Beyond the K-12 level, the report also highlights the imperative of rebuilding the capacity of the adult education system to meet the needs of immigrant young adults across the skills spectrum. For the community college system, the authors recommend using new state funds dedicated to student support services to enroll and retain students with multiple barriers to success, including immigrants with limited English proficiency.
“California’s adult education services, which provided a crucial on-ramp into post-secondary education for immigrant young adults seeking a high school diploma or to improve their English skills, were decimated over the past six years,” said Margie McHugh, Director of MPI’s National Center on Immigration Policy. “As resources begin to rebound for the K-12 and community college systems, the jury is still out as to whether these funds will be directed to critical supports for immigrant youth, and also whether there will be a significant restoration of adult education services given the large number of immigrant young adults who need them to attain workforce credentials and college degrees.”
The majority of jobs created over the next several years will require a post-secondary credential, and for California to gain a position among the top 10 states in terms of share of workforce with a college degree, it will need to produce 2.3 million college graduates beyond the 3.2 million already expected by 2025. “The state’s demographic reality makes clear that immigrants and their children will play a decisive role in shaping California’s future economic prosperity,” said Michael Fix, MPI’s CEO and Director of Studies.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders and activists, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on the Center’s work, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/integration.