A recent editorial criticized the Prince George's County Public Schools for a policy of charging tuition to non-resident students who are in fact illegal aliens ("Prince George's Alien Children," Dec. 21). While we have no problem with criticism, we are concerned about the statistics used by The Post and the lack of a full explanation of our policy.
Although the editorial stated that "hard numbers are difficult to come by," The Post nonetheless suggested that there are as many as 8,000 families of undocumented aliens in the county and offered no source for its estimate. We certainly would be astounded if the estimate were correct. Consider that if there were but one school-age child with each such family, it would represent a population of more than 7 percent of our present enrollment. Eight thousand potential students would be enough to fill 16 moderately sized elementary schools. We certainly have no evidence of such a phenomenon within this jurisdiction. The Post's "estimate" is totally without, we suspect, credible foundation.
This school system (as we believe it is the case with most other school systems) does offer enrollment on a tuition basis for children whose parents or legal guardians are not residents of the county. This is true for the child whose parents may reside in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia or as far away as Afghanistan. But the policy also includes provisions for a waiver of tuition in cases of extreme financial hardship or untenable home conditions. By categorizing undocumented aliens as potential tuition enrollees, we are simply bringing such students under the purview of the tuition policy. Not all undocumented aliens are without the financial resources to honor that tuition requirement, but if they meet the criteria of hardship, they may be considered for a waiver. We are not insensitive to the needs of these children.
A "free" public education is, in a sense, a misnomer. The cost of education is a true burden on the citizens of each jurisdiction. The federal government previously recognized this in its provisions for aid to school jurisdictions experiencing an influx of Indochinese refugees and other groups. Since it is also the federal government's responsibility to control immigration and monitor the status of aliens, perhaps The Post ought to be directing its concern to the federal level.
The Post sees no need to offer "discretionary benefits" to illegal aliens. The editorial stated: ". . . we do not, in fact, provide services such as health care, unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps and subsidized housing to those who, after all, are in this country in violation of our laws." It is interesting that The Post apparently believes that the public schools, however, must provide education to students who may also desperately need just the services described as "discretionary." The Post makes a distinction and fails to note how vital those services are to children, if teachers are to have any real chance of success. How many times has The Post editorialized about the difficulty of teaching the "hungry child," the "sick child," the "child in need of shelter," etc. Why the inconsistency now?