Preschool for All: Plyler V. Doe in The Context of Early Childhood Education

Kooragayala, Shiva | October 1, 2019

In its 1982 opinion in Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court held that a state could not deny undocumented children living within its borders a public and free K-12 education. This Note argues that Plyler’s protections extend to publicly-funded early childhood education programs that serve children between the ages of three and five. Due to the broad support of researchers, educators, and the general public, early childhood education programs funded by local, state, and the federal governments have become an integral part of a comprehensive public education today. While these early childhood education programs are nominally open to all students who meet program-specific age, income, and geographic residency requirements, undocumented children and children of undocumented parents face a variety of indirect and direct barriers to entry that range from onerous and arbitrary identification requirements to attempted outright bans on enrollment based on immigration status. Taking a prophylactic approach, this Note details how denying access to public early childhood education programs to these young children contradicts the spirit and central holding of Plyler. In this era of judicial restraint and heightened xenophobia, the enduring precedent of Plyler offers an avenue for families, policymakers, and advocates to ensure that all children, regardless of their immigration status, can receive a comprehensive public education that includes early childhood education.