Celebrating Every Child’s Right to a Free Public Education

Thirty-five years ago today, landmark Plyler v. Doe case guaranteed free public education for all children in the United States

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, NCLR (National Council of La Raza) marked the historic decision handed down exactly 35 years ago in Plyler v. Doe, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ensured equal access to a free public education for all children in the United States, regardless of immigration status. The Supreme Court found that denying children a public education based on immigration status not only violates the U.S. Constitution, but also jeopardizes any future contributions these children may make in helping the nation advance.

In its majority opinion, the Supreme Court said, “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.”

NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía recognized the historic decision as vital to opening doors of opportunity:

“The Supreme Court decision 35 years ago confirms what we already know—education is an investment in a better America for all,” Murguía said. “Plyler v. Doe ensures that all children in America have a constitutional guarantee of an education. As the next generation of children enter America’s public schools, this critical pathway to success must be protected.”

Joint guidance released in 2014 by the Department of Education and Department of Justice echoed Plyler and made clear that “the undocumented or non-citizen status of a student (or his or her parent or guardian) is irrelevant to that student’s entitlement to an elementary and secondary public education.”

In addition to recognizing the importance of Plyler 35 years later, today marked the fifth anniversary of the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. DACA is a two-year renewable policy that allows DREAMers to obtain work permits and have temporary protection from deportation. To date, more than 800,000 DREAMers have received temporary deportation relief under DACA.

“DACA works,” Murguía said in a recent interview. “DACA recipients purchase homes and invest in small businesses. They are teachers who educate our children. They are doctors and nurses who care for our sick and our elderly. These are real people with real families that have made real contributions.”

“The road to a better America begins with education and opportunity,” Murguía concluded. “That’s why we support Plyler v. Doe and DACA, and the future they offer to millions of children and youth across the nation.”