Do Disaster-Fleeing Refugees Burden U.S. Schools?

Do Disaster-Fleeing Refugees Burden U.S. Schools?

Smiling kidsThe influx of Haitian refugees in Florida following a devastating 2010 earthquake didn’t hurt the academic performance of incumbent students, School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio wrote in Brookings.

In one of the first papers to assess the effect of disaster-fleeing migrants on host communities, Figlio and co-author Umet Özek used a richly detailed Florida database that merged birth and school records to investigate the effects of more than 4,000 Haitian refugees on students with a wide variety of backgrounds.

 In all cases, they found no evidence that refugees negatively impacted test scores, disciplinary incidents, or other school-related measures of the non-refugee students in the year of the earthquake or the two years following.

“Understanding the effects of refugees on incumbent communities is more important than ever as the world faces the second largest refugee crisis in a century,” the authors wrote.

Haitian migrants who entered the U.S. in the year following the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people were granted Temporary Protected Status, which is slated to end on July 22, 2019.

Critics of more liberal immigration policies claim that refugees who relocate to the US from impoverished backgrounds are a burden to host communities. Proponents argue that recent immigrants represent the engine of future economic growth.

 “The potential negative externalities associated with refugee admissions are likely lower than some may worry,” Figlio and Özek wrote. Their conclusions come on the heels of new research suggesting that, after a period of adjustments, refugees achieve similar economic outcomes as their U.S. born counterparts, and that these newcomers ultimate pay more taxes than they receive in benefits.

David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics, conducts research on a wide range of education and health policy issues from school accountability and standards to welfare policy and policy design.

An economist by training, Figlio is the former director of Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and an IPR  faculty fellow. He also is research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the executive board of the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. 

Umut Özek is senior researcher at AIR and an affiliated researcher with the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 3/16/18