New federal rules will damage school districts — ultimately harming the students they serve

New federal rules will damage school districts — ultimately harming the students they serve
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Last December The School Superintendents Association (AASA) and scores of superintendents from across the country weighed in on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulation that would change the definition of who is considered a “public charge” for immigration purposes. We opposed this regulation because we believed it would harm the students and families in the school districts we lead.

I was an immigrant child and I am deeply concerned that the regulation will put the health and well being of millions of immigrant children at risk. We’re also worried that the regulation would place a financial strain on districts to provide wraparound services for children and families. The families would be too afraid to access traditional federal social welfare programs because of potential repercussions stemming from the regulation.

Despite our efforts, the regulation has become final. What’s more, it comes at a time when school districts are welcoming children back to school. Prior to the decision, district leaders reported that immigrant families were proactively opting out of receiving Medicaid services in schools and also participating in the school’s food programs (even though the meal programs are not impacted by the regulation).

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We will continue to inform families that accessing school-based Medicaid or school breakfast and lunch programs will not hurt the family’s or their children’s ability to get green cards. We’re finding that many families are skeptical and would rather not associate with any of the federal programs.

While the final regulation specifically exempts children who access school-based Medicaid from being penalized by the regulation, we anticipate many families will refuse to allow the school to bill Medicaid for healthcare for children who are entitled to receive these services. These children qualify for special education and schools offer broader healthcare services to those with unmet health needs.

We are also deeply worried about the nutritional impact this policy will have on children. Thankfully, the regulation does not touch the free and reduced lunch program in schools, but it does impact the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food-purchasing assistance.

What happens to kids if their parents lose access to subsidies that enable them to buy food? Hungry children are less able to learn and are more likely to miss school due to illness, repeat a grade, receive special education services, and/or receive mental health services. Districts can assist students by sending food home or operating their own food banks, but this will tack on additional expenditures that many school systems cannot afford.  

The last and most dramatic impact this regulation could have on children would be the loss of their home. The regulation states that reliance on Section 8 housing vouchers will be held against an adult who is applying for lawful permanent resident status. Children whose parents forego housing vouchers may no longer have a place to live. When a child becomes homeless, federal law requires that districts take steps to ensure educational stability, including transporting children from shelters and other temporary housing to school.

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Beyond the trauma that becoming homeless can cause for a child, districts will have to find funding to meet the actions that federal mandates require for homeless children, placing yet another financial burden on districts.

This regulation can be summarized as deeply flawed policy that will exacerbate the needs of our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable. This rule will have a devastating impact on the children that we educate and the school district budgets we manage. We encourage Congress to act quickly to block the regulation’s implementation.

Daniel A. Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.