Employer sanctions law blamed for dip in Mesa school enrollment
Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2007


Ray Parker

An alarming drop in enrollment at Mesa Public Schools this year comes largely in its elementary schools and almost exclusively in west Mesa, where there is a high Hispanic population, according to October enrollment figures.

The district will have to wrangle with the fallout that comes with nearly 1,300 fewer students, which could account for a drop of up to $5 million in funding from the state.

Other southeast Valley districts have shown enrollment increases, so the Mesa exodus is largely unexplained.

Some Mesa board members said the drop could be due to the district reaching building capacity and the aging neighborhoods.

Many are pointing to a state law that takes effect Jan. 1 that penalizes employers of undocumented immigrants, whose children attend public schools with no questions asked.

Board member David Lane said he knows of families moving to New Mexico.

"I've seen some families leave and maybe some won't arrive that normally would have," he said.

"I think that (the new law) will have an effect on schools and a lot of other things."

The number of Mesa junior high and high school students also dropped, but the district saw the largest dip in its elementary schools, with 1,217 fewer students this year.

School board member Mike Hughes, citing enrollment declines in Tucson, said charter schools aren't drawing away students as some have suggested.

At 28 elementary schools, student reductions resulted in the elimination of at least one classroom and in 17 of those schools at least two classes were eliminated.

Two years ago, there were about 700 fewer students enrolled than the previous year, while last year there was about a drop of 550.

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