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A Brief Historical Overview of the Interstate Coordination Program

Through the passage of the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA)

by Al Wright

The Section 1308 program is a direct descendant of Section 143, which was incorporated into the Migrant Education legislation in 1978. The original purpose of the statute was to ensure continued funding for the Migrant Student Record Transfer System. MSRTS, which had become fully operational in 1972, was originally funded by prorated fees paid by all states participating in the Migrant Education Program (MEP). Although no state ever withheld its funding share, the possibility led many state directors to request direct funding for the records system.

Accordingly, Office of Migrant Education (OME) Director Vidal A. “Vic” Rivera used the consent of state directors as authority to withhold funds from state allocations to fund MSRTS. That shaky arrangement was solidified under Section 143, which provided that funds be set aside under the heading of interstate coordination for funding the records system and for other programs or projects designed to improve interstate and intrastate coordination among programs serving migrant students. Such grants or contracts would be made “in consultation with the states.”

The historical record indicates that all of the testimony leading up to the creation of Section 143 emphasized the importance of interstate coordination. The reasons for including “intrastate” alongside the interstate priority are no longer clear, although one retrospective theorized that the intent was to cover what we generally call “interagency coordination.” In practice, almost all of the efforts under Section 143 and its successors were directed at interstate activities. The law provided that up to five percent of the total MEP allocation could be reserved for 143, but in most years the actual amount reserved was $6 million. Typically, about $4 million went to MSRTS.

Funding of Section 143 projects other than the MSRTS awaited the publication of final regulations in 1980, prior to which state directors made many comments and recommendations. The Office of Migrant Education thereupon began a six-year-long process of making grants to various state consortia for a wide variety of projects addressing topics ranging from career education to staff development, evaluation to health services. Over that period of time, a total of 108 grants, including a number of renewals, for a total of almost $14 million, were made to 21 states. Every state except West Virginia participated in at least one project as an advisory board member or in a similar supporting role. The average amount of the grants was $128,233.

The period of the grants came to an end when Section 143 was “accidentally” amended in 1985. In an effort to protect the Arkansas Department of Education’s uncompeted annual MSRTS contract, Congress inserted language to exempt MSRTS from annual bidding. But in the process it deleted the word “grants” from Section 143, meaning that only contracts could be issued. As OME was soliciting input from state directors on contracts for future 143 projects, a report on the 143 process was issued (in 1987) demonstrating that most 143 grants did not address interstate coordination per se. The report pointed out that most projects consisted of multi-state consortia addressing topics of general interest, such as dropout prevention.

The first contracts issued under the new 143, following extensive discussion with the states, were for a national identification and recruitment project and for a multi-purpose resource center (called a Program Development Center) in each of the three streams. These three-year contracts, issued in 1987, were based on criteria developed prior to the report on section 143 and did not address the coordination element as pointedly as the report suggested. This matter was addressed in the next round of contracts in 1990, when the Program Development Centers were changed to Program Coordination Centers with a changed emphasis on coordination efforts.

By then, Section 143 had metamorphosed into Section 1203 under the 1988 Education Amendments. Section 1203 did not reinstate the grant option, as some state directors had urged, but the only specifically authorized project, other than MSRTS, was a secondary credit project that was funded under a cooperative agreement with Texas. The contracts for the Program Coordination Centers were extended in 1993.

Meanwhile, the original reason for 143, MSRTS, came in for heavy criticism during the hearings and studies conducted by the National Commission on Migrant Education, which began work in 1989. Even though the Commission’s final report on MSRTS supported the extension of MSRTS subject to certain modifications and improvements, the Commission’s activities led to a withdrawal of support by its longtime supporters in Congress. Accordingly, while deliberations for reauthorizing the program proceeded in 1993, Congress passed legislation that virtually assured termination of MSRTS.

Consequently, when the MEP was reauthorized as part of the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act, the Section 1308 that superseded 1203 did not provide for funding MSRTS. Instead, it gave the U. S. Department of Education a broad mandate to help the states determine how best to exchange student records, as required under Section 1304. The IASA reauthorization also reinstated grants as an awards option, and it authorized the use of 1308 funds as incentive grants to states joining consortia as authorized under Section 1303. Concurrently, the Program Coordination Centers were written out of existence by the creation of Comprehensive Assistance Centers with broad responsibilities for all ESEA programs.

The first consultation with state directors under Section 1308 led to the establishment of technology as the first priority for funding. As a result, six grants were made for five-year technology projects. Subsequently. OME agreed to provide funding for the national toll-free Migrant Hotline initiated at ESCORT and to fund state directors travel to OME meetings.

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