September 8, 2008

Noriega, Cornyn disagree on illegal-immigrant issue

Cornyn wants feds to reimburse state for education; Noriega doesn't
By R.G. RATCLIFFE Copyright 2008
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

Austin — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega said Monday he would not support any effort to require the federal government to reimburse the states for the cost of educating the children of undocumented immigrants.

Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn supports such reimbursements, a spokesman said.

A report from the state comptroller's office in 2005 estimated the annual cost of a public education for an estimated 151,000 undocumented children in Texas schools was $957 million for the 2004-05 school year.

Noriega noted that federal law requires the state to educate all children regardless of immigration status. He said while the children have an impact on local schools, many of the districts receive additional funding that is available for children who live in poverty or have special needs.

Noriega said he believes the best way to deal with the cost of undocumented immigrant children is to fix the national immigration system.

"They're not mutually exclusive: the need to have immigration reform and to have education reform," Noriega said.

Texans 'footing the bill'
Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said the state's junior senator has supported efforts in the past to reimburse state and local governments for the cost of illegal immigration. McLaughlin said Cornyn would support a federal reimbursement for school districts.

"The federal government is not living up to its end of the bargain," McLaughlin said. "Texas taxpayers should not be left footing the bill."

Noriega made his comments while unveiling a federal education plan full of new spending proposals but lacking a tally of how much they would cost. Noriega said he did not know what his plan would cost but described it as an investment in the future.

Incentives for teachers
Noriega's plan called for reforming the No Child Left Behind Act, but he mostly said it had not been adequately funded. He also said there should be an end to standardized testing to judge the quality of schools.

His plan also calls for:

•Incentives for people to become teachers and provide a living wage for current teachers by providing additional pay and housing assistance for teachers who live and work in expensive areas.
•Expanding Head Start to take in more children.
•Ending unfunded mandates from Washington while also requiring schools to limit class size for primary education to 22 students.
•Change Social Security laws so Texas teachers are not penalized when they and their spouse retire. The federal government treats Texas teachers' retirement benefits as a windfall and cuts their spouse's Social Security payments in retirement.
•Control tuition increases at universities by linking federal funding to requirements that a student's tuition be locked in for the entire time they are in college.
McLaughlin said whatever merits Noriega's plan might have, "it's totally irresponsible to come out with a plan that includes such massive increases in spending and then, incredibly, say you have no idea how much it costs."

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