ERIC Identifier: ED380267
Publication Date: 1995-03-00
Author: Wright, Al
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Reauthorized Migrant Education Program: Old Themes and New.
The Migrant Education Program (MEP) secured a new 5-year lease on life when
it was reauthorized in the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994,
signed into law by President Clinton in October 1994. The new authorization,
effective July 1, 1995, requires changes in eligibility, priority for services,
schoolwide projects, migrant student record transfer, the summer funding
formula, and consortium incentives. This digest describes the new requirements,
which, taken together, make this the most sweeping one-time change in
programming for children of migratory farmworkers and fishermen since it was
first enacted as a 1966 amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Changes in eligibility remove about 200,000
children from the program but add unknown numbers of older youth. Program
priorities are redefined. There are new requirements for joint planning with
other federal and state programs, options for interstate consortia, and
modifications in the summer funding formula. Comparable to other IASA programs,
there is a call for migrant students to meet challenging academic standards.
Equally dramatic is what is missing from the new legislation: a set-aside for
funding a national migrant student database. The Migrant Student Record Transfer
System (MSRTS) is scheduled for discontinuation June 30, 1995, but the new
legislation nevertheless requires Migrant Education grantees to exchange student
For all that, however, the Migrant Education Program retains its essential
character and purpose: it remains a state grant program. The authorizing
language carries no mandate to make major modifications in program models and
delivery systems now being used to serve migrant children.
But services to migrant children will be affected, to a degree impossible to
estimate, by changes in the MEP's parent program, the Title I Part A "basic"
program. Redefined as a program to help disadvantaged students meet high
standards, Title I authorizes the use of funds from a number of sources,
including Migrant Education, to serve children in schoolwide projects. The new
MEP carries a "special rule" concerning migrant children in such projects.
The new MEP authorization is about twice as long as the version in effect
through June 30, 1995. Additional text includes, for the first time, a statement
of purpose specifically addressing the migrant program; program requirements
relating the MEP to the Goals 2000 program; definitions formerly carried only in
regulations; and mechanisms for coping with the absence of MSRTS, which has not
only been used to exchange information between schools and MEP sites, but also
has been the basis for enumerating migrant children and allocating program funds
among the states.
About a third of the children presently
eligible for the Migrant Education Program will no longer qualify, owing to the
reduction in the eligibility period for children who cease to migrate. The core
criteria for initial eligibility are unchanged in the new legislation, i.e., a
child (ages 3-21, inclusive) is defined as migratory when he or she moves from
one school district to another in order for one or more family members to seek
temporary or seasonal work in agriculture or fishing. Beginning July 1, 1995,
the eligibility based on a single move extends for only 3 years (reduced from 6
Children who move more frequently establish a new eligibility each time they
make a "qualifying" move. For example, if a family home-based in Texas migrates
each year to Ohio and then to Michigan to pick cucumbers, cherries and apples,
the children become eligible on the move to Ohio and then start a new 36-month
cycle of eligibility when they relocate to Michigan. But the return to Texas is
ordinarily not a qualifying move, because the family is returning home--though
for many it is a home they know for only 6 or 7 months a year.
By reducing the term of eligibility, Congress intended to focus more funds on
the children who move most frequently. This was consistent with recommendations
from many quarters, including the National Commission on Migrant Education and
the National Association of Migrant Educators.
The new law provides three exceptions for continuing services beyond the
3-year mark: any child whose eligibility expires during a school term may be
served until the end of the term; a child whose eligibility ends prior to the
start of a term may be served for another year "if comparable services are not
available through other programs," and secondary students can continue to be
served "through credit accrual programs" until graduation. Because children
served under the continuation provisions are not weighted in the funding
allocations, services to such children may be limited. However, continuing
concern about the still high dropout rate among migrant students (about 50
percent) may result in use of the continuation option for many secondary
The immediate effect of the 3-year eligibility period will be to produce a
redistribution among the states of the MEP appropriation (approximately $305
million for the 1995-96 program year). States currently enrolling larger numbers
of migrant children in the 4th, 5th, and 6th years of eligibility will lose
funds, while states enrolling more children in the first 3 years of eligibility
Another revision in the eligibility definition makes eligible a category of
older youth who previously did not qualify. Migrant workers and their spouses
through the age of 21 will now qualify. Previously, a worker qualified for the
program only if he or she had earlier migrated with a parent or guardian, and
spouses did not qualify. It is difficult to estimate the number of migrants in
the 16-21 age range who will qualify under this provision, but the number could
be significant. In some cases, parents and children both may be eligible. Major
program adjustments will be necessary if educational and support services are to
be provided to a population that is not likely to be enrolled in school.
PRIORITY FOR SERVICES
There is a major change in the
legislative priority for MEP services. In using MEP funds, grantees and
subgrantees "shall give priority to migratory children who are failing, or most
at risk of failing, to meet the State's challenging...standards, and whose
education has been interrupted during the regular school year."
Migrant educators generally believe that virtually all migrant children are
at risk in relation to challenging performance standards. Even outstanding
students are in jeopardy because of state-to-state differences in curriculum and
testing requirements. There is greater concern about implications and possible
interpretations of the educational interruption priority. This criterion is
viewed as a potential disincentive for migrant families to delay departures from
their home bases until the end of the school year--a practice that the MEP has
promoted for decades with considerable effect. If migrant families believe that
allowing their children to complete the school year will result in loss of
access to summer programs in receiving states, they may simply withdraw them and
There is also uncertainty about whether a migrant child's late return to his
or her home-base school constitutes an interruption. Many migrant students do
not return until October or November each year, and many, especially the older
youths who help their parents in the field, have not attended school before
their return. Technically, their school year has not been interrupted, because
it has not yet begun.
Title I Part A authorizes the use of
Part A funds, "in combination with other Federal, State and local funds," for
schoolwide programs. Pending development of regulations, this is generally
interpreted as authorizing the commingling of MEP funds with other funds in
schoolwide projects that serve migrant children. The provision, however, does
not supersede the MEP program requirements for states to assess needs of migrant
children and plan appropriate services. In other words, MEP funds can be placed
in schoolwide projects if state administrators decide that such projects would
meet the needs of migrant children, but there is no mandate to use schoolwide
projects as a primary means of meeting their needs.
Additionally, the special rule carried in the MEP authorization requires that
any schoolwide projects receiving MEP funds must use those funds to meet needs
that result from the migratory lifestyle of migrant children or are not
addressed by other programs, or to provide services needed to permit migrant
children to participate effectively in school.
LIFE AFTER MSRTS
The new MEP statute contains an implicit
mandate to replace MSRTS by directing the Secretary to seek recommendations on
new means of counting migrant children and transferring records, the twin
functions of the system defined in the old law. Allocation of funds for the
1995-96 program year is to be based for the last time on data provided by the
MSRTS, which was scheduled to begin phasedown of operations after compiling
full-time equivalent counts of migrant children in each state in 1994.
The new authorization, like the old, requires state grantees to foster
interstate coordination of services, including "the timely transfer of pertinent
school records." In the absence of MSRTS, the law calls for the Secretary to
solicit information and recommendations on the transfer of student records and
possible technologies that could be employed, and to make a report to Congress
by April 30, 1995. The report is to include "recommendations for interim
measures that may be taken to ensure continuity of services in this program."
In existence since the early 1970s and originally a showpiece of educational
technology at work, MSRTS, a national information system anchored in Little
Rock, Arkansas, had come under criticism for its costs--an estimated $25 million
at federal, state and local levels--and alleged ineffectiveness. The National
Commission on Migrant Education (1991) produced a set of recommendations for
improving the system. Before the recommendations could be carried out, however,
Congress enacted P.L. 103-59 in 1993, providing for extension of the system only
until June 30, 1995. Continuation beyond that point would be at the discretion
of the Secretary of Education. When the chairman and ranking minority member of
the House Education and Labor Committee subsequently filed a Migrant Education
reauthorization bill (HR2679) that specified the discontinuation of MSRTS, the
Department of Education took it as its cue to omit MSRTS from its
Ironically, the new legislation devotes more attention to records transfer
than did the previous statutes. Many observers expect attempts to create
alternate systems for the transfer of records to add substantially to costs.
SUMMER FUNDING FORMULA
Summer programs were originally
conceived as "safe havens" for migrant children, who might otherwise be with
their parents harvesting crops in the field, as well as places for providing a
wide range of educational opportunities. Summer schools were inherently more
costly than regular term supplemental programs because they could not piggyback
on the existing infrastructure (buildings, maintenance, food service,
transportation, etc.) The MEP law was amended to provide an upward adjustment to
the allocation to states providing the summer program, producing a formula under
which a migrant child generated about four times as much for each day enrolled
in summer school as for a day in regular term.
While the adjustment initially achieved its purpose, it became problematic
when some MEP grantees began to offer nontraditional, nonschool-based summer
programs in which migrant children could be enrolled and served at lower cost.
The Department of Education ruled that each state had the right to define an
educational program for migrant children according to its own principles and
standards. The number of migrant children, especially formerly migrant children,
enrolled in low-cost programs dramatically increased because it was possible to
generate more funds in supplemental funding than the programs cost to operate.
Such programs drew criticism from those who felt the low-cost programs, if
conducted primarily to generate additional funds, were contrary to the essential
purpose of the programs.
The new law addresses the criticism by directing the Secretary to develop a
procedure that more accurately reflects cost factors for the different types of
Although the MEP statute had
historically permitted states to join together in applying for their basic
grants, no states ever exercised the option. The new law, in an effort to make
programs more effective in states receiving smaller grants, provides monetary
incentives for doing so. States that join in consortia are eligible to receive
additional grants of up to $250,000 from a $1.5 million set-aside. Besides the
financial incentive, the statute provides that the Secretary "shall consult"
with states receiving MEP grants of under $1 million "to determine whether
consortium arrangements with another State or other appropriate entity would
result in delivery of services in a more effective and efficient manner."
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