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Lawsuit Filed To Free Funds For Homeless

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Homeless children in Virginia and New Jersey have filed suit in federal district court in Washington to force the U.S. Education Department to release $5 million in federal funds earmarked for helping the homeless gain access to education.

Three children from Richmond, Va., and two from Glassboro, N.J., joined the National Coalition for the Homeless and Sasha Bruce Youth Work Inc., advocacy groups based in Washington, in the suit filed Dec. 28 against the department and Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

The plaintiffs charge that the funds, allocated by the Congress last July under the two-year, $1-billion Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, were to be distributed to states by this winter.

The two groups contend that the Education Department does not intend to make the funds available until May, at the earliest. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to force the department to advance the deadline for receiving applications for state grants from April 30 to Feb. 15.

"Secretary Bennett has defied the Congressional mandate that he act with speed to aid homeless children," said Maria Foscarinis, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "Because of the delay, these children may lose up to a full year of schooling."

Justice Department lawyers filed a motion Jan. 6 to dismiss the suit.

Charles E.M. Kolb, deputy general counsel for the Education Department, took issue with the lawsuit's claims, saying that the department has "acted aggressively and expeditiously" to implement the act.

He said the funds now are available and will be distributed to states as applications are received. As of Jan. 4, he said, only Pennsylvania had applied for funds from the program.

"The plaintiffs have seriously misrepresented what the department has done," Mr. Kolb said. "We do not believe we have delayed at all."

The homeless coalition also released a report last month contending that 34 percent of homeless children in a survey of shelters around the country were denied enrollment by local school officials, mainly because of residency requirements.

The difficulty of transferring school records and homeless families' lack of transportation also are factors in the exclusion of homeless children from schools, according to the report.--kg

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