An odd news release issued today by Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office highlighted concerns about new questions the D.C. Public Schools are asking about the citizenship of those enrolling in after-school programs.
The release came just before noon from the D.C. Office on Latino Affairs and was titled “Citizenship Requirements for DCPS Afterschool Programs.” It suggested the impeding reversal of a new requirement that parents must present proof of citizenship to enroll in this year’s after-school programs. That, as anyone familiar with immigration politics in the District knows, is a politically hazardous suggestion.
But there were some red flags in the release. It had factual errors, such as referring to State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley as “DCPS superintendent,” and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson as “Chancellor for Office of the State Superintendent of Education.” The language in a statement attributed to Latino Affairs Director Roxana Olivas was, to be charitable, less than coherent. (“These requirements possess a president danger for public offices,” it started.)
When I called Olivas shortly afterward to figure out what was going on, she said the release was a “total mistake” and would soon be corrected. Gray spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro confirmed this evening that a staffer issued the release “inadvertently” without going through proper channels.
The truth behind the botched release is that the city is indeed asking after-school applicants for citizenship information for the first time this year, and that is indeed raising concerns among activists in the Latino community.
But city officials say they must ask for the information in order to comply with oversight requirements attached to the $6.8 million federal grant that covers the bulk of the city’s after-school program costs. Congress requires grant administrators to ensure that no federal funds benefit illegal immigrants, and the District is making a concerted effort to adhere to those requirements in hopes of shedding its status as an ”high-risk” grantee. (Note that illegal immigrants generally cannot be barred from public schools, but after-school programs appear to be treated differently.)
City officials, however, took pains in a follow-up release to note they have “no intention of turning students or families away for afterschool programs or services” if they cannot document their citizenship or legal residency. Those students will have their after-school costs covered by local tax funds that aren’t subject to the congressionally imposed restrictions.
The situation is somewhat analogous to the few months in 2010 and 2011 when Congress allowed the District to spend its local tax dollars on abortions for those enrolled in public low-income health care plans. A strict ban on using federal funds remained in place, so the city arranged so only unrestricted local dollars went to pay abortion providers.
Put another way: Just another day of bureaucratic wrangling prompted by the conflicting mores of congressional Republicans and the District’s largely Democratic elected leadership.