Immigration Reform and Adult Education Funding

VOXXI on the possibility of immigration reform serving as a lever for increasing the federal investment in adult education:

[A]s talks heat up regarding anticipated immigration reform, the grease used to accomplish such a monumental task will indeed be English adult instruction on a national level.

This is similar to the previous large immigration overhaul in 1986 when $4 billion was earmarked towards states providing English classes. However, [Migration Policy Institute Policy Analyst Sarah] Hooker said whatever reform does happen, plenty of questions remain.

“English classes would likely be an element of any major reform bill,” Hooker said. “The one question would be at what point would someone have to demonstrate English proficiency? Is it going to be at the point of adjusting to a temporary legal status or applying for citizenship or some intermediate point along that pathway?”

I think the biggest difference between now and 1986 is that it is much less likely that an immigration reform bill introduced this year will include any new funds for additional English classes. If anything, we’re more likely to see additional cuts to federal spending for non-defense discretionary programs like adult education later this year. [1]

To me, it would be perverse for a comprehensive immigration reform bill to ignore the dramatic state budget cuts to adult ESL classes in states like California. But it appears Congress is going to be stuck in fiscal austerity mode for some time, and so I’m hard pressed to come up with a scenario in which immigration reform results in a significant new federal investment in adult education.

I’d love to be wrong about this.

h/t @otan

[1] As noted in this commentary by Robert Greenstein, the end-of-the-year “fiscal cliff” budget deal only delayed the scheduled across-the-board sequestration cuts that were supposed to kick in on January 2nd:

Sequestration will hit March 1 unless the President and Congress delay it further or replace it with something else.  Republicans are insisting that policymakers must replace every dollar of across-the-board cuts that’s cancelled with a dollar of spending cuts.  The White House, consistent with its dollar-in-taxes-for-a-dollar-in-spending principle, wants to replace sequestration with a package that includes equal amounts of revenue increases and spending cuts.

Both sides, in other words, have already agreed that additional spending cuts will be on the table during the next round of negotiations, and while this doesn’t necessarily mean cuts will be made to adult education, any non-defense discretionary program is pretty vulnerable as both sides look for things to cut. Further, the likelihood of any increases in discretionary spending for things like adult education seem to me to be pretty unlikely in an environment where both sides are looking for $2 trillion in deficit reduction…