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Report Lays Out Priorities for Migrant-Ed. Funding

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WASHINGTON--Federally funded migrant-education programs should focus more on students whose parents are currently moving around the country in search of agricultural work, a new report urges.

While arguing that the Migrant Education Program and similar programs "work, warts and all,'' the report also calls for a variety of other improvements to the federal education program for the children of migrant farmworkers.

Developed by a national commission after three years of study and debate, the 180-page report is scheduled to be released here next week.

The generally supportive tone of the report for the $295 million MEP emerged despite initial skepticism about the program by some of the 12 commission members, participants said. A final draft of the report does not advise either curtailing or increasing the program's federal funding.

The study is expected to be influential when the 26-year-old program, which is part of the Chapter 1 program for the disadvantaged, comes up for reauthorization in Congress next year.

Emphasis on Current Migrants

The migrant-education program is intended to help both youths whose parents follow agricultural crops around the country and those whose parents were migrants until recently.

An estimated 600,000 children are eligible for the program, of whom two-thirds, or about 400,000, receive services.

In its report, the commission argues that funding priority should go to students who are currently migrating during the school year, "since these students are presumed to have the greatest needs.''

Currently migrating students are defined as those whose families have moved in the previous 12 months, while formerly migrant students have farmworker parents who have moved in the past five years.

The commissioners recommend in the draft that Congress explore "a funding allocation that would give greater weight to currently migrating students,'' with the aim of creating an "economic incentive'' to identify and serve such students.

While the program was designed primarily to serve currently migrant students, some states in fact are mostly serving former migrants, who are easier to find than itinerant students, noted Linda Chavez, the chairwoman of the commission.

Economic incentives are "the only way essentially to encourage or force school systems'' to preserve the program's mission, Ms. Chavez said.

Funding 'Priority' Urged

Addressing the issue of funding as one of its nine formal recommendations, the panel said only that federal officials should make funding for programs serving migrant farmworkers and their families a "priority.''

Participants said the brief, nonspecific recommendation reflected a compromise among commissioners. Spending for the program was a controversial subject among panel members, some of whom initially had favored cutting or even eliminating funding. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

The draft report does, however, document the decline in inflation-adjusted federal dollars for MEP since 1982, even as the number of eligible children has increased.

In 1991, the program received a third of the amount intended by the original legislation, the report says.

In other proposals, the commission's report urges:

  • Better integration and coordination to ensure that programs are not duplicative, needy populations are served, and proper services provided;
  • A strong local role for MEP as an advocate for migrant children, while maintaining state authority over local projects;
  • Greater efforts to help migrant children gain access to local, state, and federal assistance to which they are entitled, including other Chapter 1 programs; and
  • A common definition of seasonal and migrant workers, to facilitate data collection across programs that serve them.

More than half a dozen federal agencies provide programs to migrant and seasonal farmworkers, the draft report notes, and there are currently as many as 12 different statutory and regulatory definitions for migrant farmworkers.

Coordination Council Proposed

The commissioners also recommended an executive order to establish an interagency council to coordinate federal services to migrant farmworkers and their families.

"We have to make sure every dollar spent is well spent,'' Ms. Chavez said.

The commission also advised that a "more concerted effort'' be made to see that migrant children with special needs are identified and served and services are coordinated.

Another of the panel's recommendations centers on a program that helps high school migrant students transfer credits between schools.

The commission urges the Education Department to work with such groups as the chief state school officers, the National Education Goals Panel, and the nation's governors to foster agreement among states about "core courses or waivers'' that facilitate the graduation of students.

The high school dropout rate for migrant children is several times the national average, and high school credits are frequently lost when the youths move.

In a separate report last year, the commission had called for major changes in the national system used to transfer migrant students' school records. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991.)

Finally, the commission's report urges that state and local administrators "exercise restraint'' when it comes to such administrative expenses as travel, conferences, and memberships.

Travel Spending Questioned

Sources said the recommendation was adopted in place of language specifically critical of the more than $400,000 spent annually by member states on activities of the Interstate Migrant Education Council, which periodically holds meetings of state and federal policymakers to discuss migrant-education issues.

Critics of the council had argued that its meetings were using money that would be better spent on services for migrant students.

Two of the commission's four Congressional members sit on the council, however, and in a memo to commissioners, Ms. Chavez had warned that it would be a "serious mistake'' to criticize an activity involving lawmakers who are the primary advocates for migrant education in Congress.

The report also asks the Education Department to institute uniform reporting procedures for expenditures of MEP money by states.

"We want the dollars to reach the children,'' said Wendell N. Rollason, a commissioner and the executive vice president of Redlands Christian Migrant Association in Immokalee, Fla.

The report also includes separate statements by five commissioners indicating what issues they would have treated differently. One member calls for greater emphasis on parental involvement, for example, while another suggests that migrant parents be urged to "leave their children behind'' while they seek work.

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