Schools, families struggle with issue
By Erik Buchinger
Clintonville School District Business Manager Lynette Edwards said there has been a rise in the number of homeless students in the district over the last five years.
“I don’t know if you are aware that we do have a population of homeless students in our district,” Edwards said at a recent school board meeting.
Edwards said there were 18 homeless students in 2011-’12 and 17 the following year. In 2013-’14, there were 29 homeless students and 28 the next year. Last year, there were 29, homeless students, and there have been 23 students identified as homeless this school year.
According to Edwards, there are different categories that are considered homelessness.
“When you picture homeless, you think sleeping on the streets, but there are actually a couple different categories,” Edwards said. “We have families that are living in motels or shelters, so those are considered homeless. We also have families that are doubling up, so they’re living with another family because their either lost their home or can’t afford to live on their own.”
Students moving away from home can also be considered homeless.
“One other interesting population of homeless is unaccompanied youth, so this could be a high school student who decided they don’t want to live at home anymore, so they’re going to go live with another family or with a boyfriend,” Edwards said. “Those are now considered homeless students.”
Edwards said she is aware of the amount of homeless students because it makes an impact on the district’s budget.
“The reason I wanted to be part of this conversation because there is an impact at the budget level with homeless families and homeless students,” Edwards said. “That’s the part that I see because we get requests for reimbursing for things for homeless families. In the couple years that I’ve been in the district office, it seems like that has just continued to grow in numbers, so I wanted to know if that is true or if that was just me thinking that.”
The McKinney-Vento Act, passed in 1987, requires the district to assist with homeless students.
“With that, there is free lunch, so we do free breakfast and lunch for those students,” Edwards said. “We also, which is challenging at times, have to make sure there is no burden in transporting kids to school. The way it works is if we have a family who lives in Clintonville and they lose their home and they’re going to live in a motel in New London, a lot of you would think they’ll just get picked up by the bus and go to the New London school. But that’s not what the McKinney-Vento Act requires.”
Edwards said the reason for the law is to keep the students from additional stress.
“It’s already traumatic that they’ve lost their home and they’re living in a hotel, but to then have to change schools just makes it even more traumatic for them,” Edwards said. “The McKinney-Vento Act allows for students to continue attending school where they were prior to losing their home.”
The act also requires the Clintonville School District to remove the burden of transportation to and from school.
“As you could imagine, that’s kind of a big burden not only on our staff time but our financial resources as well,” Edwards said. “We don’t get any additional funding to provide this. This is just required. Title I budget is required to do a set-aside for homeless. It doesn’t really specify how much, but the remaining of that comes out of our general funds. As we see the families increase being identified as homeless, that’s another thing that our budget is having to help out with.”
The district also provides families with gas cards.
“Gas cards are another way we reimburse and try to help take away the burden of transportation,” Edwards said. “If the family moves to Manawa and is doubling up with grandparents because they’re evicted or whatever, that’s a long drive. We can make an arrangement with the family if you would drive your child here to school, we will reimburse you in fuel, so we do that through gas cards to Kwik Trip only. Unfortunately, we know that money may not be used for its intended purpose, so we try to make sure that it is.”
Homeless students are also provided with school materials if the family does not have money to purchase these items.
With students coming from different areas, school districts are allowed to split the cost with other districts.
“For that example I gave with New London, we’re asked to contact New London and let them know we have a family that’s living in their district,” Edwards said. “We’re going to be doing this, that and the next thing for them, and we will be invoicing you for a shared cost for that, so we are allowed to do that as well.”
Edwards said this was something she wanted to bring up because homelessness has become an issue not only in Clintonville but around the area as well.
“I don’t think that’s something a lot of people realize with the number of kids we have that are identified as homeless and the requirements of school districts,” Edwards said. “Of course it’s not just our district. This is unfortunately an epidemic all around.”