The Federal government began
a broad-scale effort to improve the lot of America's migrant
and seasonal farm workers in the Sixties. The nation's collective
conscience had been jolted by Edward R. Murrow's documentary
Harvest of Shame, which was telecast on CBS television in 1960.
Awareness of the poverty and hardships endured by families that
migrated to harvest fruits and vegetables to feed hungry Americans
led to a call for action at the highest level. The first major
government program addressed health concerns, and other programs
were created to focus on housing, working conditions, and training
for other employment. Then came education.
The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 committed the Federal government to help schools, especially in providing extra help to children who were disadvantaged by poverty and its effects. In the Fall of 1966, Congress amended the ESEA to create the Migrant Education Program to address the special needs of mobile farm worker children.
The first programs for migrant children were implemented in the Fall of 1967 with a total Federal allocation of $9 million.
Today the Migrant Education Program serves more than half a million children in 49 states. The Federal commitment is $386.5 million for the 2007 federal fiscal year which begins October 1, 2006 and ends September 30, 2007. With those funds, states and local schools provide a broad range of instructional and support services to supplement regular classroom instruction and help overcome barriers arising from mobility and educational disruption. Most states offer special programs in the summer. Many states make special efforts to reach preschool children and older out-of-school youth who have not graduated.
The Migrant Program faces unique challenges in locating and enrolling children who move, in exchanging academic and health information, and in facilitating the transfer of high school credits. Many innovative approaches have been developed, including pioneer applications of technology. From an internal database begun in 1971 to nationwide distance learning programs in the early Nineties, the program now offers online courses, mobile computer labs, and satellite feeds. Some students are provided with laptop computers to stay in touch with their home schools as they move.