INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana never spent millions of dollars the federal government provided to help make sure the children of migrant workers get a good education, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal government awarded the state a total of about $12 million for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, but the Indiana Department of Education didn't claim the grants, the report obtained this week by The Associated Press says.
Federal officials who reviewed Indiana's program in March expressed concern in the report that the state wasn't spending enough to ensure that migrant children receive adequate schooling in spite of their families' frequent moves.
A state's ability to serve migrant children "is directly related to the extent to which it can fully and effectively implement the requirements of the program and expend MEP fund," the report said. "Knowing this, ED (the Education Department) is very concerned about IDOE's failure to comply with a number of MEP requirements and its inability to expend MEP funds in accordance with the 27-month window of availability."
The report said Indiana has downsized the staff for finding children for the program so much that the state can no longer do the job. The state program has a staff of four and employs five seasonal workers to recruit children for the program. Federal officials recommended the program hire additional staff.
A spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education said the problems with administering the funds are longstanding.
"Due to the agricultural calendar in Indiana, the majority of migrant families transition to and from Indiana during spring and summer months, which adds a level of difficulty for IDOE and schools to track migrant students. Additionally, many families move within the state as agricultural seasons change with Indiana's unique landscape," Katie Stephens said in an email.
About 73 percent of the families migrate from Texas, Georgia and Florida, and most of the remainder come from Mexico, the report said. Migrant families typically arrive in Indiana in June and stay through September or October, working in fields growing corn, tomatoes, apples, watermelon, asparagus and cucumbers.
The report said the number of children eligible for Indiana's program has dwindled from 7,000 to 1,000 since 2007, a decline the state believes resulted from employers hiring workers without families or local seasonal workers, families settling, the lingering economic downturn and increased enforcement of immigration laws.
The Sept. 28 report also said the state needs to improve the program's plan and other documentation and should take steps to make sure migrant children were counted correctly. The report said state education officials rely too heavily on schools' counts, which include only children who are already enrolled and miss those who don't already go to school.
The U.S. Department of Education told the state to take corrective measures within 75 days, which expired Dec. 12. Otherwise, the department said it might place conditions on the state's 2013 grant.
Stephens said the state education agency is working with the federal government and other Midwestern states to develop a more efficient program.
"While the state has not misused the funds, we are committed to ensuring faster allocation of resources to our migrant families who need them," she said.
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