From the Lowell Sun
By Mounira Al Hmoud
The Boston University Statehouse Program
BOSTON — Massachusetts school districts may soon be spared the expense of busing thousands of homeless students to class. But a plan for the state to take over the $11.3 million bill means state taxpayers — rather than individual communities — would pay the rising costs of the federally mandated program.
“To make the program work, the state must step in,” said state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, whose school district saw costs for the busing program rise 30 percent from fiscal 2011 to 2012.
The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act requires communities to enroll homeless students from preschool to grade 12 and provide the transportation necessary to get them to school.
Students have the option of attending a school close to their new location or remain in their last school.
According to J.C. Considine, spokesperson for the Department of Elementary and Secondary School Education, there were 14,247 homeless students enrolled in 278 school districts across the state during the 2010-2011 school year.
A study conducted by the state auditor’s office found the majority of homeless school-aged children live in Waltham, Danvers, Holyoke, Chicopee, Brighton and Brockton.
The plight of homeless students was an issue well before the recession. A 2000 report to Congress cited lack of transportation as the No.1 barrier faced by homeless children in attending school regularly.
Robyn Frost, executive director of Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said the problem received little notice before the report.
“Kids would be out of school an average of four months, because parents did not have the immunization or school records and transportation was nonexistent,” she said.
Under the federal act, schools may not deny students enrollment if they don’t have documentation proving residency or guardianship. Schools must take in the child and aid in securing the paperwork.
The law defines homeless children and youths as those lacking a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This includes children and youths “doubling-up” — living in motels, trailer parks, emergency or transitional shelters, abandoned in hospitals, or waiting for foster-care placements.