Loss of migrant pupils cuts schools' funding

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Capital News Service
LANSING –The number of migrant children in some Michigan schools is diminishing and that means fewer dollars for those districts.
School administrators are not certain whether the loss of the students is attributable to crop damage, a shift in the type of immigrants coming into Michigan communities or their choice of occupations, the loss of farmland or the reclassification of students
Michigan school districts, particularly those in rural areas, are witnessing drops in federal funding simply because migrant children are not enrolling at rates compared to previous years, according to Tom Watkins, Michigan’s superintendent of public Instruction.
“Some school districts in Muskegon, Newaygo or other farming communities had 50, 60 or even 100 kids enrolled last year and were anticipating those same numbers again this year,” Watkins said. “When crops are down because of drought and the like, the number of migrant children is down.”
Fewer migrant students in a school district translates into less federal money flowing into those school systems in support of migrant, at-risk and limited language proficiency children. The districts receive a base allocation of about $6,700 per student, but migrant students’ inclusion in school can bring in an additional $1,400 to $1,700 annually in federal aid.
The absence of those students means a loss of those funds. A school district losing 100 students can expect at least a $670,000 shortfall or more in their annual budget allocations. But, as one southwest Michigan school district director points out, the presence of migrant students and their accompanying federal dollars do not guarantee an increase in services to the students the money is designed to help.
Even with the passage of the “No Child Left Behind” law, which President Bush signed earlier this year and has been billed as the most wide-reaching elementary and secondary school reforms since 1965, states and school districts can reallocate certain federal funds to area and programs not originally intended.
That authority, according to the Van Buren Intermediate School District’s director of migrant and bilingual education, lets school administrators divert dollars and embark on aggressive migrant “recruitment” campaigns.
“Van Buren County ISD has seen a steady decline in its migrant student population for the last three years,” said John Dominguez, an immigrant education advocate who has worked for the state for more than three decades. “Along with that we have seen a decline in funding.”
Dominguez cited several reasons, including the loss of crops, the change in the type of migrant working in Michigan communities and the recruitment of students into other districts, for Van Buren’s reduction in its migrant student population.
Some workers are now migrating to the state and working as unaccompanied or “stag” workers, Dominguez said, and may take on jobs in landscaping, meat processing or masonry instead of working on farms or in orchards. Some students are simply reclassified and, while the basic allocation remains intact, federal supplemental dollars are lost.
“The families that once accompanied these workers remain at home because of the availability of other kinds of work,” he added. “When families come to Michigan and stay, the students may no longer be designated as Ômigrant’.”
The federal funds earmarked for migrant students diminishes over a three-year period, if the students remain in the community for longer than a year, he explained. School districts can continue to receive federal funds for those students, Dominguez added, if they continue to be classified as “at risk” or English-deficient students.
That extra money can be an incentive for other ISDs to recruit migrant students.
“It’s not always the desire to help the migrant student that is the appeal,” Dominguez said. “Sometimes it’s the lure of the dollars that can be used in other ways than they were originally intended that motivates districts into recruiting migrant children into their programs.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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