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U.S. Audit Raps Oklahoma on Migrant-Student Eligibility

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 11, 2006 3 min read
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An audit of three Oklahoma school districts has found that 98 percent of the children the districts counted as participants in the federal migrant education program during the 2003-04 school year didn’t meet eligibility requirements.

In a March 21 report, the office of the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general said that 121 children in a sample of 124 migrant children in the Guymon, Clinton, and Poteau districts didn’t meet the program’s criteria. The audit estimated that the state inappropriately spent $509,000 in federal money in the three districts, and it recommended that the money be returned to the federal government.

The March 21, 2006, audit report of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program is available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.

“Because the migrant count in those districts was overstated, the [Education] Department has no assurance that other Oklahoma districts accurately counted migratory children for the 2003-04 [school year] migrant children count,” the audit report said.

To qualify for the federal migrant program, a child, or his or her parent or guardian, must have in the previous three years moved from one school district to another to obtain temporary work in agriculture or fishing.

Rick Peters, the assistant superintendent of the Poteau school system, believes his district counted the students as migrants correctly, and he called the federal audit’s assertions “ludicrous and false.” About 120 of the district’s 2,200 students are migrants, he said.

Definition of ‘Temporary’

He said the federal auditors had identified only 16 families to interview in his district and weren’t able to locate eight of them.

“The families that visited with the folks who came from [the Education Department’s regional office in] Dallas didn’t trust them and didn’t want to talk,” Mr. Peters said. He believes that the families were evasive in their answers, and that the auditors didn’t get accurate information.

Mr. Peters also quibbled with the federal definition of “temporary” work. The audit said some children were ineligible because their parents had jobs at livestock-processing plants, which do not meet the definition of temporary.

“They counted someone not migrant who is working in a chicken plant,” Mr. Peters said. “That’s as migrant as you get. They don’t know if they are going to work from day to day.”

He said people go early in the morning to a chicken-processing plant, and if they aren’t selected to work that day, they go home and try again another day.

The three districts had a total of 1,242 students in their migrant student count. In 65 cases out of the sample of 124, the families didn’t make a qualifying move, the children didn’t have a parent or guardian working in a migrant job, or the parent didn’t have the intent of seeking migrant work, it says.

The audit recommends that the Oklahoma Department of Education conduct a statewide count of migrant children to account for the $2 million in federal Migrant Education Program funds the state received for the 2003-04 school year, as well as for subsequent years. It also recommends that the state establish procedures to ensure recruiters for the migrant program understand the criteria for participation.

Oklahoma state officials could not be reached for comment on the audit last week. According to the federal report, state officials neither agreed or disagreed with the audit’s finding regarding the count of migrant students, and they indicated they were investigating the matter.

The audit said Oklahoma education officials took issue with the claim that they had not conducted required surveys of Oklahoma’s industries. The state officials believe they collected sufficient information about the state’s processing plants, according to the report. The state officials also disagreed with the finding that they hadn’t trained migrant education staff members in the school districts on recruitment and data collection, saying that they conduct a statewide videoconference every August to train those employees.

The federal Migrant Education Program serves some 750,000 children nationwide, with a fiscal 2006 budget of $387 million.

A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as U.S. Audit Raps Oklahoma on Migrant-Student Eligibility

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