Oscar Ramos teaches students of migrant farmworkers in his classroom at Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas, California. He sees students disappear because they must follow the crops with their parents, moving from town to town, making a steady education difficult. One year, a 4th grade teacher started the year with 28 students and ended with just three.
“When the harvest season is over here in the valley, the Central Coast, a lot of our parents would move to Arizona,” he said. “Everyone, the parents, the children, they would all go. So we would lose a lot of students.”
One reason that’s been happening in some California communities: the “50-mile regulation” defining who qualifies to live in one of 24 state-subsidized migrant housing centers. To maintain their housing eligibility, workers have had to move at least 50 miles away for several months out of the year, returning for the next harvest. Some moved across California, or to other states such as Arizona, or even back to Mexico—their children in tow. The regulation originated decades ago, when it impacted mostly single men—but as more families came to use that housing, the rule disrupted their children’s education every year.
As the new school year gets underway, many migrant families will be able to take advantage of a newly enacted exemption, championed by Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas. It allows migrant farmworkers with children to stay put for the duration of the school year. Up to half of subsidized migrant housing may now be allocated to farmworkers with families.