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Study Supports Migrant-Ed. Rule Change

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Washington During a four-year period, 40 percent of a sample of students served by the $266-million federal migrant-education program did not miss any school as a consequence of their parents' migration patterns, according to a federal audit report.

The document was released last month in the midst of a debate on eligibility for the program, which since 1966 has provided supplemental funding to state and local education agencies for special programs to meet the needs of children who miss schooling or suffer educational problems because of migration.

The report was prepared by the General Accounting Office (gao), the investigative agency of the Congress.

It confirms earlier findings of a study by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, which concluded that about 46 percent of migrant students remained at one school district for an entire school year.

Currently, 468,000 students are being served by the program, according to Education Department figures.

Funding More Than Doubled

Funding for the program has more than doubled in the past six years, according to the gao, growing from about $131 million in the fiscal year 1977 to over $266 million in 1982.

According to the gao report, two-fifths of these students migrated exclusively during the summer months, over holidays, or before initially enrolling in school.

Another 3.6 percent missed fewer than 10 days of school due to migration in any of the years reviewed.

The report said 60.3 percent were enrolled in only one school during the entire period reviewed.

The gao reviewed the enrollment patterns of 811 students within six school districts in California, Florida, and Texas over a period averaging 4.3 years for each student. The results are not statistically valid for all districts that have migrant-education programs, the report stated.

The current debate over the program centers on a move by the Reagan Administration to change the eligibility requirements for the program.

Based on the Research Triangle Institute study and federal audits, Education Department officials "knew there were significant numbers of kids who were not migrating during the school year but were served by the migrant program," said Monika Harrison, director of policy, planning, and executive operations in the Education Department's office of elementary and secondary education.

Because the migrant program is a part of the federal Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged children, any funds saved by reducing eligibil-ity for migrant programs could be applied to Chapter 1, she said.

Currently, migrant children are classified as "currently migratory" and "formerly migratory."

A child is considered "currently migratory" if he has moved across school-district lines within the past 12 months. A "formerly migratory" child is one who was previously classified that way but no longer migrates.

Migrant children are eligible for program services for each year that they are determined to be currently migratory and for up to five additional years, during which they are classified as formerly migratory.

Neither definition addresses the issue of educational disruption, according to the report.

The migratory move may occur at any time during the school year and does not have to result in missed days or in a disruption of the child's education, the document said.

The Administration had proposed changing the migrant-education program's regulations to require that for children to be considered "currently migratory," they must have transferred from one school to another during the school year.

A separate, legislative, change would also decrease the number of years of eligibility for formerly migrant students from five years to two.

Under the Administration's pro-posal, children now classified as currently migrant who would not qualify for that status under the new regulations would be eligible for services as formerly migrant students, according to Ms. Harrison.

And even migrant children who lose eligibility for services as former migrants are still likely to be served in schools' Chapter 1 programs for disadvantaged children, she said.

"Clearly, the bulk of kids now receiving migrant program services would be eligible for Chapter 1 under the income-level criterion," Ms. Harrison said.

During hearings last February on the proposed changes before the House elementary, secondary, and vocational education subcommittee, the director of migrant education for the Texas Education Agency said the changes would be an incentive to parents to keep their children moving from district to district so they would remain eligible for the program.

Another state migrant-education official warned that migrant children would displace regular Chapter 1 students in that program.

President Reagan vetoed legislation passed by the Congress in 1982 that included a provision that would have stopped the Administration from making the changes.

Similar legislation is being considered in the current session of Congress.

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