Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)


The Cost of Denying Public Education to Undocumented Students in Tennessee

Publication Date

Spring 2022


Health Sciences & Nursing, Gordon E. Inman College of


Social Work, Department of

BURS Faculty Advisor

Jennifer Crowell-Thompson

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) barred undocumented people from accessing publicly funded services. The enactment of PRWORA largely symbolized a calculated effort to exclude this population from America’s main institutions and support programs. Despite being closed off from the majority of the main institutions within American society, undocumented people were still allowed access to one, vital social institution: public education. In years prior, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler V Doe that it is unconstitutional to deny public education to undocumented students. Therefore, the public school system has been uniquely positioned to act as a sanctuary for undocumented residents and has the potential to provide them with supports and opportunities otherwise denied to them within American society. Although Plyler V Doe has been in place for decades, states have continued to challenge this ruling. In fact, the most recent of these challenges is currently moving through the Tennessee General Assembly. Sponsored by Representative Griffey and Senator Hensley, HB 1648 and SB 2597 would effectively eliminate state education funding for undocumented students, forcing educational institutions to solely take on financial responsibility, and allow school districts to deny them enrollment. The denial of public education to undocumented students runs counter to the social work values of social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, service, integrity, and competency. This paper will dissect the proposed legislation, analyze the appreciations and limitations of the policy, and identify salient recommendations for change.

This document is currently not available here.