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Attitudes toward children of undocumented immigrants have eased - sort of

Photo by mhonpoo/Flickr (Creative Commons)
Source: Phi Beta Kappa International

Attitudes toward the children of undocumented immigrants receiving free public education have changed quite a bit since the days following California's epic Proposition 187 battle in 1994, when Californians voted to bar undocumented immigrants from public services, including public schools.

The measure later failed the courts. But close to two decades later, a majority of Americans are still opposed to these children receiving a free public education, school lunches and related benefits. This is according to the results of a nationwide poll just released by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional educators' association, conducted with Gallup.

Overall, the poll suggests that Americans' attitudes toward children of undocumented immigrant have eased over the years: 41 percent of those polled supported public education and related benefits for children of undocumented immigrants, up from 28 percent in 1995.

There was also a big split along party lines: 65 percent of Democrats polled were supportive, as opposed to 21 percent of Republicans. More details from the report:

Most Americans oppose providing free public education and other benefits to children of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. This, too, follows party lines, with Democrats indicating support on this question.

Interestingly, Americans living in the West were evenly divided on this question (48% approved vs. 52% opposed), while Midwesterners were more opposed (29% approved vs. 70% opposed).

It’s also important to note that while Americans remain opposed, the opposition is significantly lower than when we last asked the question in 1995.

The report comes just as the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a provision of a strict anti-illegal immigration law in Alabama that sought to order public schools to check the immigration status of students is unconstitutional.

The poll covered a broad range of other topics, from immigration and the school achievement gap to finances, teacher evaluation and bullying.

Among other things, a majority of respondents also said they believed it important to close the achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students, and 62 percent said they would be willing to pay more taxes to improve the quality of urban public schools.

The entire report can be read here.