Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Homeless Students? How best to help them

This fall we see the opening of First Place School as a charter school serving mobile, high-risk students (mostly homeless).  The Times had a story about how homeless students are served in schools in Washington state with an interesting question to it.

The Times reports that there are about 30,000 homeless kids in our state today (and that number has steadily risen over the last decade). School can be the one constant in their lives (for as long as they may be in any given school).  

There's a federal law protecting these students - the McKinney-Vento Act - and it allows students to stay enrolled in a school even if they move.  Districts have to pay to transport them to that school, no matter the distance.

The feds give money for these transportation costs but naturally, it doesn't cover them all.  Seattle SD spends over $1M a year in costs (out of a state budget for transportation of all homeless WA state students of less than $1M a year).

One thought is that maybe Seattle SD might be better off putting those transportation dollars towards a housing subsidy that would keep kids nearer their schools.

I could see how this might provide better outcomes but I also think it could be a headache for districts to try to figure out how to do this (a bill is likely to come up in the next legislative session).

Transportation costs are fairly high in our own district.  But maybe this is an idea worth looking into to bring those down.


Anonymous said...

This is one of those sounds good in theory won't work in reality things. Do we trust SPS which can't run a decent let alone innovative transportation system to design and monitor the use of housing for homeless kids - and yes still transport them?

If universal preschool already strains the system far too much and enlarges the SPS mission do we also now want to take on housing?

No. Absolutely not. In theory or in some other school district with its act together maybe. But SPS cannot and will not be able to handle it. Period. Nor do I want the city to take it on in the name of the district. The dysfunction between the Office of Ed and the School Board makes my case.


Anonymous said...

If a child still lives within 20-30 minutes of a school, then by all means, they should be transported as per McKinney-Vento. But when the family moves to Auburn and the child goes to school in Edmonds (yes, that is happening), it becomes a ridiculous waste of money and is very hard on the child. 2 hours in traffic each way is not good for kids. District employees are sent out at 5am to pick up kids and bring them to school, then spend another 3-4 hours transporting the kids back to wherever they are living. I do understand the importance of giving kids some constancy when their lives are in turmoil, but at some point this needs to be evaluated as to what is really good for the child, and I'm willing to bet spending 4 hours a day in a district vehicle/taxi/little yellow bus is not the best option for those kids. They could be in an after school program being active, getting homework help, etc. rather than sitting in traffic.

Anonymous said...

Long term, this can't be a school-managed issue. The solution goes behind that. As a majority, when we decide that homelessness is unacceptable, we commit to funding homes for everyone. The lie of market-rate housing no longer works. Housing speculation hurts the poor, it hurts what's left of the middle class, and it hurts teachers who are forced to make long commutes. In addition to all of that, oversight over what schools do with their money is poor at best.

CT, I can feature the case of a child in Auburn being transported to Edmonds. When my family was forced into temp housing, we moved to Renton before the end of the school year, but our children attended school and aftercare in Seattle. It happens.


seattle citizen said...

Is this a "conversion" school? First Place has been around for at least fifteen years, maybe longer. It was a sort of collaboration between SPS and some social services group.

From my understanding, they did/do a very good job serving homeless students.

a) I wonder why they wanted to go charter;
b) Is SPS still on the hook for transportation costs? Or does FP have to go directly to the state?

Melissa Westbrook said...

FP is not a conversion school. Being a charter allows them a more steady funding source than multiple grants. I think they have to figure out the source of transportation themselves (although likely thru SPS).

Anonymous said...

this is exactly the same problem as many problems, compounded by the same baloney solutions.
The baloney solutions are a merry go round of programs, many or all of which spend way too much money on buck passing paper pushing highly credentialed nitwits making idiotic processes to justify their paychecks.
These kids, just like any kids from any kind of messy adult life, need stability. They need to know where their school is, who their teachers are, who their counselors are, who helps 'em with food and shelter and health issues and math homework and the history project and the reading - AND THIS CAN'T BE MULTIPLE PROGRAMS WITH MULTIPLE FORMS AND EVER CHANGING ADULTS.

Why was I so dismissive, contemptuous and sarcastic about the nitwits? Well, cuz the stuff in BOLD isn't rocket science.

Bill Moyers had a segment about a working poor family who've been homeless and cast adrift and cut off at the knees too often as they were trying to get a itsy bitsy ahead. The program recommendations from the mom were things I could have said 4 decades ago when I was a teen on welfare.

In 2012 there were appx. 28,000,000 Americans over 15 with money income over 75,000 a year. There were appx. 221,000,000 of us under that 75k. There were about 193,000,000 of us under the 50k mark.

All you over 75K gurus - Make stuff work, or, do us all a favor


Anonymous said...

Westside - I can completely understand it if it is near the end of the school year and they've been at that school for most or all of the school year and possibly preceding years. But when a child has been enrolled in a school for maybe 2 weeks in October (and had already been in another school prior), then the parent comes in and says they've been kicked out of their latest house and demands transportation to and from Auburn for the remainder of the school year, things start getting a little suspect. I have a former colleague who was put in charge of the McKinney-Vento program in her region/county, and she had many stories to tell about how it is misused, yet her hands were tied. Kids enrolled for 3 days in a school, then parents say they were homeless and wanted free busing to/from Everett or Mt Vernon. Later the school/district finds out the child was kicked out of previous district (like Everett or Mt. Vernon) but because the parents didn't want to have to drive their child to school everyday in a district far away, they fudged an address in the new district, enrolled, then claim they were evicted. It ruins it for the legitimate cases. There need to be some additional guidelines put in to stop some of the abuse that is occurring, and again, a 2+ hour commute each morning and afternoon is not good for kids, especially not for an entire school year. She had drivers who left at 4:30am to drive down to Auburn, Renton, or up to Mt Vernon or out to North Bend to pick up kids by 6am in the hopes they would make it to school by 8:15 (and free breakfast) before schools started at 8:30. Those same kids might get home by 5:30 or 6pm depending on traffic. They get home exhausted, hungry, with little or no time to do homework/get help/play before they have to go to bed to start it all over again. I do think it is a necessary program, as I see the fallout (both academic and social-emotional) from the kids who do bounce around from school to school through no fault of their own, but there are definitely changes that need to be made.