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State seeks closer monitoring of migrant students' education

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is seen

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is seen in this photo from Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: AP

State education officials agreed to improve coordination of support services for migrant students after an audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revealed efforts are falling short in attaining better academic performance.

The recommendations from DiNapoli's office, and adopted by the state Education Department, seek to expedite how school districts report performance and assessment data for migrant students to the Migrant Education Tutorial and Support Services programs. The programs provide tutoring and language instruction and advocate for those students outside of school hours.

The premise behind the push is that the better informed the program coordinators are about migrants' performance in schools and on tests, the better those students can be helped through after-school efforts. Long Island's support services are provided by Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

"The children of migrant workers face enormous challenges and obstacles in their educations, including poverty and cultural and language barriers," DiNapoli said in a statement. "After looking at the state's program, my auditors made several recommendations to improve the educational outcomes for these children."

Statewide, about 5,400 children and young adults between ages 3 and 21 are part of migrant households. They are the children of immigrants who take on seasonal or temporary jobs in farm fields and fisheries throughout New York.

About 400 migrant students live on Long Island and in New York City. They are largely concentrated in Suffolk County's East End, with its wineries and vegetable farms.

According to DiNapoli's audit, issued this month, the graduation rate for those migrant students was a low 51 percent in 2014, compared with 71 percent for other economically disadvantaged students throughout the state. Migrants also struggled to meet math and English learning standards, as measured by state assessments.

The audit was performed in response to a request from Assemb. Marcos Crespo (D-Bronx), who chairs the Assembly's Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

On Long Island, only four migrant students out of 11 who were in 12th grade in 2014 graduated.

Nathan Berger, Long Island organizer with the Rural and Migrant Ministry nonprofit that advocates on migrant worker issues, said the poor academic performance reflects the myriad challenges faced by a population of largely poor students, who sometimes move as the parents follow crops and who often have to work to help their families.

Those students' school outcomes could improve, he said, if their parents received benefits such as overtime pay, a day of rest and the right to disability insurance for which his organization has fought.

"There are kids that are working in the fields as young as 15," Berger said. "These kids are sacrificing their futures to help supplement their parents' income, because it's a very short season and they need to help."

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