DACAmented results

Study finds DACA encourages undocumented kids to stay in school, as Congress ponders their future

Giving undocumented young people protection from deportation came with a big education bonus: It made them more likely to finish high school and enter college, according to a study released earlier this week.

It’s new evidence suggesting that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, benefits individual students as well as society as a whole — and comes as Congress continues to debate the fate of DACA recipients. Education advocates from a variety of perspectives have called for extending the program for both human rights and educational reasons.

“America is a nation that welcomes Dreamers and their many talents,” the National Education Association’s head Lily Eskelsen García said late last year. “When we embrace their contributions, the future is brighter for all of us.”

The paper, released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, examined the effects of the DACA program. Put in place by President Obama in 2012, DACA offered work permit eligibility and protection from deportation to certain undocumented immigrants who had entered the country as children. (The move was also criticized at the time as an overreach of executive power.)

DACA’s existence led to a number of benefits, the researchers find. In some cases, they appeared immediately.

High school graduation rates increased by nearly 4 percentage points among all non-citizens and nearly 11 percentage points among Hispanic students. College enrollment among Hispanic non-citizens jumped by over 7 percentage points — a more surprising finding, since DACA directly encouraged high school graduation but not college enrollment.

In addition to the academic benefits, the study also finds teenage pregnancy rates dropped and upticks in work among 17- to 29-year-olds.

“We find that these young adults … attended school and worked more, often at the same time,” write researchers Elira Kuka, Na’ama Shenhav, and Kevin Shih.

(The researchers focus on non-citizens because they do not have data on which specific students are undocumented. Non-citizens encompass students who could potentially benefit from DACA.)

The results make sense in light of the uncertainty those students faced prior to DACA, when they would have been blocked from working legally in addition to facing the stress of potential deportation.

Anecdotes back this up. Angélica Infante Green, a New York State education official, and Susana Cordova of Denver Public Schools described one student who benefitted from the program in a recent op-ed: “Take ‘Carlos,’ who graduated top of his class at Stuyvesant [High School]. Before DACA, the only opportunity Carlos had after graduation was to work for his family. Now he’s going to college and excelling academically.”

However, the study does contrast with some prior research on the topic.

Another paper found that although DACA did increase rates of GED attainment and chances of having a job, it didn’t boost rates of attending college. A different study found that DACA increased students’ likelihood of dropping out of a four-year college in favor of work, because it is a work permit program.

“The results suggest that the precarious and temporary nature of DACA creates barriers to educational investments,” that study found.

In that sense, a more permanent solution may be even more likely to lead to educational gains.

Meanwhile, after Trump’s decision last September to end DACA, effective in early March, it’s been the subject of legal wrangling. On Tuesday, a second federal judge ruled against the Trump administration’s plan to end the program. Congress has debated this issue extensively, with some Republicans wanting to tie an extension of the program to additional border security and a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has imposed a deadline for this week to hammer out a deal.

We’ll see if the latest study figures into the debate.

“In part, the controversy over this policy stems over fears that that undocumented immigrants may bring undesirable attributes to communities — for example, low levels of education and high levels of teenage births,” the researchers write. “Our findings suggest that immigration policy that includes incentives for education can lead to improvements in each of these areas of concern; a reversal of this policy may overturn those gains.”

Kids eat free

Colorado could expand lunch subsidy to high school students

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Bernadette Cole serves food to students at Prairie View High School in Brighton.

When Colorado expanded a school lunch subsidy to middle school students, the number of sixth- through eighth-graders eating lunch at school went up in districts across the state.

Twenty-sixth percent more middle school students ate lunch at school in the Greeley-Evans district, where a majority of students live in poverty, but even in the more affluent Littleton district in Denver’s south suburbs, 11 percent more middle school students ate lunch.

For school nutritionists and children’s advocates, these kinds of results make the case for extending this same lunch subsidy to high school students.

“We know the co-pay is a barrier because of the large uptick in participation when it goes away,” said Erin Miller, vice president of health initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The “co-pay” is the 40 cents per meal that families who qualify for reduced-price lunch — but who make too much money to qualify for free lunch — are responsible for. The federal government picks up most of the cost for these lunches, and since 2008, Colorado has covered the 40 cents for the youngest students, rendering those lunches free to their families. This program has gradually expanded, reaching middle school students in legislation passed last year.

A bill that passed out of the House Education Committee Thursday would cover the 40-cent cost difference for high school students, a longtime goal of advocates.

“The state of Colorado has been trying to ensure that kids in poverty have access to food for a decade,” said Danielle Bock, nutrition services director for the Greeley-Evans district and a public policy and legislative consultant with the Colorado School Nutrition Association. “This is the final step.”

Miller said hunger affects children in school not just academically but also emotionally, with hunger even associated with higher suicide rates. Advocates have pushed to expand the state subsidy because participation in school lunch goes down as children get older, even as their caloric needs go up.

Currently, households that earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,630 for a family of four, qualify for free lunch through the federal program. Families who earn between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty limit, or up to $46,435 for a family of four, qualify for a reduced-price lunch. It’s children from that second category families who will benefit if this bill becomes law.

Bock said the vast majority of school food service agencies in Colorado have unpaid lunch debt that, under federal law, they can’t just write off. School districts either pick up the costs out of their general fund or try to collect from parents, which sometimes leads to the controversial practice of “lunch shaming,” in which schools serve less nutritious and appealing alternative lunches to students whose parents owe money.

Lawmakers started out wanting to ban lunch-shaming, but school nutritionists convinced them it would be better to have the state cover some of the extra lunch cost for families who are struggling to make ends meet.

When Denver ended the practice of serving “alternative” meals to families who hadn’t paid for lunch, the amount of lunch debt skyrocketed, with a large portion of it coming from families who had not signed up for subsidized lunches and might have the means to pay.

According to a fiscal analysis, Colorado plans to spend $2.2 million on lunch subsidies this school year. Expanding the program to high school students would cost an additional $464,000 next year, with that money going into school food service budgets.

pass the microphone

This Memphis senior was kicked out of three high schools. Here’s how he got on track to graduate.

PHOTO: Gillian Wenhold, The Social Exchange
Despite what John Chatman calls a “really tough childhood” where he was often left on his own, he’s on track to graduate from alternative school G.W. Carver College and Career Academy this year.

In front of more than 100 people, John Chatman recalled the bullying he endured as a child for having a stutter.

Chatman was one of seven educators and students who took the mic at Chalkbeat’s February story storytelling night. The stories centered around school discipline practices, a topic we recently covered in this special report.

“Growing up in the area I grew up in, it’s hard to deal with that,” said the 18-year-old. “You’re an outcast. … It made me hate school, because I never could enjoy it. I may answer a question and stutter, [and other students would] get to laughing and cracking jokes.”

Kids stopped making fun of him in middle school when Chatman became a star middle school football player in Memphis — but the prestige that came with playing football disappeared when he was injured on the field.

“I took my injuries and replaced them with the streets,” Chatman said. “Throughout my ninth-grade year, I was starting to lose myself. … By 11th grade, I didn’t know who I even was.”

During that period, Chatman said he was kicked out of three high schools and eventually wound up at G.W. Carver College and Career Academy, an alternative school for expelled students, housed in former Carver High School.

“This school changed my life forever, Chatman said.

To hear more about how Chatman’s life changed, watch the video (or read the excerpt) below.

The storytelling night was hosted by Chalkbeat Tennessee, Spillit, and The Knowledge Tree. The video was filmed by Gillian Wenhold for The Social Exchange, a pay-as-you-can public relations and content creation firm for nonprofits, and businesses owned by women and people of color.

My 11th-grade year was the time I decided I had to change. The change was when I finally got kicked out of school. Well, I’d been kicked out of school but this was the kick-out-of-school that kicked me in my back real hard and said you only have one strike left. If you mess this up, this is it. It’s over with. You’re not going to see the light of day. Due to that, I ended up going to Northeast, and it still didn’t get better. In fact, I’m going to tell y’all the transitions of my schools. It started at ninth grade at Central, couldn’t come back to Central and I had to go to East , got kicked out of East and went to Northeast. Got kicked out of Northeast and now I’m back at Carver.

I’ll tell y’all, this school changed my life forever. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for that school. It happened like this. There was a guy named Roger. We used to run together during the same time period. …

[During a presentation of past Carver graduates], an image of Roger popped up clear on the screen. It wasn’t up for nothing bad, he was on the road to making a six-figure [salary]. I was like, ‘This was the same person I used to shoot dice with?’… Now he’s living a life and I’m stuck here. I’m still doing the same stuff I’ve been doing and not getting no different result, and that’s called insanity… I took it, and I told myself if he can do it, I know I can.

Spillit, storytelling
PHOTO: Xzavier Bonds
Chatman speaks to a packed room during Chalkbeat’s storytelling event.