In a letter sent to his fellow state representatives last week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo wrote, "Hasty actions make bad law." The specific hasty action Stumbo was referring to was state Senate passage of Senate Bill 6 during the four-day organizational session of the 2011 General Assembly.
SB 6, an immigration measure similar to the controversial Arizona statute currently being litigated in federal court, would be a very bad law if the House concurred with the Senate action. Along with his own letter, Stumbo included a letter from Bob Wilcher, executive director of the Kentucky Head Start Association, explaining just how bad it would be for Head Start programs around the state.
Bottom line: Passage of SB 6 would force these programs to make the proverbial choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
If they ask about the immigration status of children enrolling in their classes, they risk the loss of the $130 million in federal funding that allows the 3,500 employees of this pre-kindergarten program to serve more than 17,000 impoverished children across the commonwealth.
If they don't ask the immigration question, their staff members risk felony prosecution if undocumented children are found in their classrooms. And the bus drivers who haul the children to and from Head Start classes could also face misdemeanor or felony prosecution if their passengers include any undocumented aliens.
Kentucky needs these Head Start programs. We're a state with some of the poorest counties in the nation and one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty.
As Wilcher noted in his letter to Stumbo, "For many of our children, the one and only route out of poverty will be determined by that child's ability to succeed in school." Head Start gives them a chance to succeed; without it, their chances diminish drastically.
While the loss of Head Start would be devastating, it would be far from the only loss the Bluegrass State would suffer if SB 6 became law. The American Immigration Center's Immigration Policy Center recently projected that passage of this bill would cost Kentucky $1.7 billion in economic activity and more than 12,000 jobs.
Hasty actions do make bad law. In this case, a very bad law with enormous potential for inflicting economic damage and endangering the education of all of Kentucky's impoverished children, including those with all the proper documents.