OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republicans across Oklahoma continued to distance themselves Friday from a GOP state legislator’s comments suggesting the cash-strapped state could save money by recommending students who don’t speak English for deportation.
Rep. Mike Ritze, an osteopathic doctor from Broken Arrow, said the state could identify non-English speaking students “and then turn them over” to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to determine whether they are citizens. He also questioned whether the state must provide an education to children who may be in the country illegally.
Here are some of the facts about students in Oklahoma public schools and the political fallout from Ritze’s comments.
While Ritze suggested there are 82,000 non-English speaking students in Oklahoma, figures from the State Department of Education indicate there are 49,536 English learners, which refers to students who are not proficient in English, in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Oklahoma public schools.
Oklahoma City Public Schools, one of the state’s largest districts, has more than 13,000 English learners, which is about 33 percent of its student population.
Ritze’s estimate likely includes about 32,000 additional students who are bilingual, although he did not return telephone and email requests seeking comment.
Both bilingual and English learner students are eligible to qualify for a 25 percent increase in the per-pupil allocation from state-level funds, which equated to about $758 per student. In addition, districts that meet a certain minimum funding threshold also qualify for federal Limited English Proficient funds, which equated to about $87 per eligible English learner student last year, according to education department officials. The federal funding is used to provide language instruction programs, professional development for teachers and staff, and for parent, family and community engagement activities.
Although Ritze questioned whether Oklahoma is required to provide a public education to students who may be in the country illegally, the law is clear. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that states cannot deny students a public education based on their immigration status. The case resulted from a 1975 law approved by the Texas Legislature that authorized school districts to deny public school enrollment to children who were not in the country legally.
Oklahoma schools also do not collect or share any information about a student’s immigration status.
Ritze, who made the comments in an interview with KWTV-News9, said he was speaking on behalf of the newly created Oklahoma Republican Platform Caucus, an informal group of some of the most conservative Republicans in the GOP Legislature, but several members of that group quickly distanced themselves from the remarks. The group’s leader, Rep. Chuck Strohm, said the idea was never discussed at any of their meetings.
Republican State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called the idea “utterly shameful,” and House Speaker Charles McCall released a statement Friday saying the proposal had never been considered by House Republicans. The idea also was panned by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin.
Oklahoma faces an $878 million budget gap for next year, and lawmakers are wrangling over how to raise new money or cut spending. Ritze said he believes the state could save $60 million if it did not have to pay to educate non-English speaking students.
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