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Federal migrant education program: How it came to be

This in-depth reporting from EducationNC Senior Reporter Alex Granados was conducted over the past year with the support of Education Week's 2017 Gregory M. Chronister Fellowship. Granados is the inaugural recipient of the fellowship and worked closely with Education Week editors and staff to complete the project.

The intervention by the federal government to improve the lives of migrant students was largely sparked by the television documentary “Harvest of Shame,” presented by Edward R. Murrow for CBS in 1960, according to the advocacy group Migrant Legal Action Program.

“We present this report on Thanksgiving because, were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials,” Murrow says in the documentary, which reportedly was among the first to give the television-viewing public an up close look at poverty.

Although the documentary raised awareness, the federal Migrant Education Program was six years in coming. In 1966, Congress added it to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was passed for the first time a year earlier, and committed the nation to helping schools around the nation particularly when it came to impoverished students. 

The nation’s migrant education programs currently serve 302,000 eligible students, including 28,000 out-of-school youths. For the 2018 fiscal year, the federal migrant program had a budget of $372.3 million, which was down from the previous four years. For 2019, the U.S. Department of Education is asking for an increase to restore funding to $374.8 million.

The money goes to “support high-quality education programs for migratory children and help ensure that migratory children who move among the states are not penalized in any manner by disparities among states in curriculum, graduation requirements, or state academic content and student academic achievement standards,” according to the Education Department’s website. “Funds also ensure that migratory children not only are provided with appropriate education services (including supportive services) that address their special needs but also that such children receive full and appropriate opportunities to meet the same challenging state academic content and student academic-achievement standards that all children are expected to meet,” the description goes on to say.

Services may include: “academic instruction; remedial and compensatory instruction; bilingual and multicultural instruction; vocational instruction; career education services; special guidance; counseling and testing services; health services; and preschool services.”

While states operate their own migrant education programs, different states have different styles of implementation. Some operate it centrally, while others “subgrant” the funds to local migrant education departments or other organizations. Local migrant education departments are operated in their respective school districts.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.