Is a House Immigration Reform Bill Imminent?

(Updated Below)

This week I’ve been hearing from some my friends in the field that the House is getting ready to introduce an immigration reform bill in the very near future—even, perhaps, ahead of the Senate. I’ll believe it when I see it. After reading some of the published reports about House action on this issue, I still think that the Senate, where a bipartisan group of influential Senators has actually put out a plan, is going to be first up with a bill.

The Hill did report Monday that a “bipartisan group of House negotiators is even further along in drafting a comprehensive immigration overhaul than its counterpart in the Senate,” and that this group was trying to release a draft bill directly before or after President Obama’s State of the Union address on February 12th.

But The Hill also noted that even though House Speaker John Boehner told a Republican advocacy organization last month that the House immigration group “basically [had] an agreement,” an aide later said that the Speaker’s assessment was “overly optimistic” as they “have not come to agreement on some of the big stuff.”

Moreover, Caitlin Huey-Burns, writing today forRealClearPolitics, suggests that Republican leadership is actually tapping the brakes on this effort:

House Speaker John Boehner… has advised his chamber to approach immigration reform slowly. “This is not about being in a hurry. This is about trying to get it right on behalf of the American people and those who are suffering under an immigration system that doesn’t work very well for anybody,” he told reporters Tuesday.

She also reports (as many others have) that there are still a significant number of Republicans in the House who are opposed to introducing a comprehensive bill, and would rather take on reform in a piecemeal fashion, through a series of separate bills.

Mike Flynn, writing for Breitbart.com about the revelation that a group of House members has been meeting to draft legislation on immigration reform reminiscent of the Senate talks, thinks that “the talks are even more political theater than the Senate effort.”

If I were in a position where I had to choose between focusing my advocacy efforts between the House and the Senate over the next few weeks, I think I’d go with the Senate. In particular, considering Sen. Marco Rubio’s strong interest in this topic—and apparent influence within his party on the pending legislation—the sizable number of adult education advocates in Florida seem to me to be in an interesting position to advocate for adult education resources in the Senate bill.

UPDATE 2/7/13: The National Journal seems to agree:

[[T]he House will likely hold hearings and markups, and maybe even offer the bipartisan bill, but they’re not going first. House Republican leadership thinks immigration will likely fail in the Senate, and they’re not wild about the idea of making their members take a politically tough vote only to have reform die.

Charter Schools and Adult Education: Thoughts on Pending Florida Legislation

According to this report in the Cape Coral/Fort Myers News Press, legislation is about to be introduced in the Florida legislature by Sen. David Simmons, (R-Maitland), and Rep. Janet Adkins, (R-Fernandina Beach), that will, according to the report, “allow charters or non-profit groups to offer adult education classes.”

I’m pretty sure that Florida law does not currently prohibit nonprofits from offering adult education classes, and if you read further, it appears that this is not actually what this proposed legislation would do.

The issue caught my attention because there are several charter schools in Washington, D.C. that provide adult education classes as part of their mission. The D.C. charter law is unique (as far as I know) in that it explicitly includes adult education as a suitable function for D.C. charter school funding. I think that there are other states where the law is silent on the issue.

While I haven’t actually read the proposed Florida bill, it does not appear to be modeled after the D.C. law. Instead, this proposal appears to be designed to provide charters and nonprofits with access to state adult education funds that currently flow exclusively to the K-12 system in Florida. In other words, nonprofits can obviously offer adult education services now — they just can’t currently access state adult education money to do it. The bill is being promoted by a large nonprofit organization, the Volunteer USA Foundation, a non-profit group with strong connections to the Bush family.

The charter school law in the District of Columbia, on the other hand, allows charter schools that serve adult students with the opportunity to access city education funds that otherwise is used for K-12 education. In other words, it created a new funding source for adult education, leaving existing state funds for adult education alone. (The “state” adult ed money in D.C. does not go to D.C.’s K-12 system, by the way, but flows pretty much exclusively to nonprofit organizations through a competitive grant process.) Again, I may be wrong, but it appears that the Florida legislation is designed simply to move adult education money from the K-12 system into private nonprofits and charter schools. It may result in new adult education entities but if so it will be at the expense of services currently being provided by the school system.

I think this distinction is worth mentioning as this issue is often raised in discussions of whether charter school legislation might open up new funding streams for adult education. It did in the District. That doesn’t appear to be what is envisioned in Florida.

P.S. Someone with some extra money lying around should fund someone to do a  comprehensive look at current adult education charter school models, (most are in D.C., but I understand that are a smattering being proposed in other jurisdictions), and look at state charter school legislative language across the country that might theoretically accomodate the growth of adult charter schools.

No One Could Have Predicted…

Turns out that making adult education more expensive and less accessible reduces enrollment:

In the four months since Florida began charging tuition for adult education programs, enrollment has dropped dramatically, prompting concern from some lawmakers that the Legislature may have gone too far.

Since requiring not only tuition, but also documentation to determine residency, enrollment in adult education classes offered at colleges has dropped 45 percent and enrollment offered through some school districts has dropped 38 percent, according to preliminary data by the state Department of Education.

The one possible silver lining here is that it could provide an opportunity to learn more about which each of these additional requirements — the tuition fees or the residency documentation requirement — had more of an impact. I don’t know if anyone in Florida is collecting data to determine the answer to this question, but it would be useful for advocates and policymakers to know the answer. When this law went into effect, I suspected the residency documentation was a much bigger deal than the tuition, and some of my colleagues in Florida agreed with me. Immigrants who are legal residents nonetheless are often nervous about presenting the wrong documentation to persons in positions of authority. In light of current events in neighboring states, such nervousness does not seem irrational to me.

People assume this is an issue that only impacts immigrants, but that’s not the case. I know from experience that a surprising number of people have trouble coming up with the paperwork needed to prove residency (homeless individuals are an obvious — but not the only  — example). Folks attempting to enroll in adult education for the first time are often easily discouraged. I can easily imagine people showing up to enroll, and after being told they need to come back with residency documentation, never return.

And there’s this:

One unintended consequence has been the impact tuition has had on inmates in Florida’s jails, prisons and juvenile justice facilities. Because of new requirements that require documentation to prove residency, and the tuition, some inmates cannot register for or pay for the classes, lawmakers said.

Maybe unintended, but I don’t understand how this could not have been anticipated by those who supported the law.

UPDATE (11/22/11): Just for clarification’s sake, I should have noted that non-residents of Florida are not barred from enrolling in adult education classes in Florida — they just have to pay more. So if you don’t have the documentation to prove you are a Florida resident, you could just opt to pay the (substantially) greater fee. But I don’t think that lessens the chilling effect of having any kind of proof-of-residency rules attached to enrollment.