As 1.3 million New Jersey students head back to school this month, white children will no longer constitute a majority in public schools throughout the nation.
It will take several months to collect and confirm data, but while the nation’s K-12 population crosses this demographic milestone at a significant moment in time, the transformation of American classrooms was not unexpected.
Changes in immigration laws dating back to the 1960s helped increase the flow of immigrants to the United States from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the globe and many reports telegraphed the changes ahead for the nation’s schools.
The 1965 Hart-Cellar Act abolished the national-origins quota dating to the 1920s that heavily favored immigrants from Western Europe and instead prioritized immigrants’ skills and family reunification.
In 1986, Education Week reported that the nation’s K-12 students were more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before and President Ronald Reagan signed a law that granted amnesty to millions of undocumented residents.
While whites still constitute the largest ethnic group, minority group members — African-American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, American Indian, and multiracial children — now make up more than 51 percent of students enrolled in public schools.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the United States will become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043, with non-Hispanic whites making up the single largest ethnic group, followed by Hispanics.
President John F. Kennedy’s classic essay, A Nation of Immigrants, documented the importance foreign-born citizens played in American history and advocated changes that opened up US borders. The issue remains a topic of controversy, as Congress deadlocked on President Barack Obama’s call for action to repair problems that allowed the number of undocumented immigrants to peak at over 12.5 million, in 2007 while President George W. Bush was in the White House.
To insure security while attracting the “best and brightest” from beyond America’s shores Obama said, “We have to fix our immigration system, which is broken.”
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