The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty called on federal lawmakers last week to do more to eliminate barriers that prevent homeless children from attending school, and recommended cutting off federal funding for schools that educate such children exclusively.
In a report released Feb. 1, the Washington-based center says transportation can pose a major obstacle to children who want to stay in the school they attended before becoming homeless. Requirements for proof of residence, immunization records, and birth certificates can also serve as barriers to enrollment, the study says.
|“Separate and Unequal: A Report on the Educational Barriers for Homeless Children and Youth,” can be ordered by calling (202) 638-2535.|
“Homeless children may be shut out from enrolling in school for a few days or a few months,” Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the law center, said during a news conference here last week. “Without an education, these children are in serious jeopardy.”
The release of the law center’s report coincided with a report by the Washington- based Urban Institute estimating that out of the 2.3 million people who are likely to be homeless at least once in the course of a year, almost 40 percent are children.
Though Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Act of 1987 in an effort to protect homeless students’ access to public schools, the law center report says that many states and localities have failed to comply with the law’s requirement that schools receiving federal aid for educating the homeless integrate such students into regular public schools.
As a result, the report argues, there has been a “disturbing’’ proliferation of schools designed exclusively for the homeless.
Separate Schools Targeted
The law center identified 40 such schools in its report and says that most are in shelters and churches and fail to offer homeless students the kind of resources available in regular schools.
“If you separate [homeless children] and isolate them and make them feel different than all the other children, you are violating their civil rights,” argued Walter E. Varner, the specialist in homeless education and dropout prevention for the Maryland education department, who attended the news conference.
With Congress taking up the reauthorization of the McKinney Act this spring, the report also criticizes a bill approved by the House last fall that preserves federal funding for existing separate schools for homeless children. The measure was proposed by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who sought to protect the Thomas J. Pappas School in Phoenix. The 740-student school provides busing, food, clothing, and medical care to homeless students, and receives some $60,000 a year through the McKinney Act. (“Home Sweet School,” Jan. 26, 2000.)
“These Washington bureaucrats are totally out of touch with reality,” Mr. Salmon, a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said of the law center’s push to end federal funding for separate schools for homeless students. “The Pappas School is loved by conservatives, Democrats, and everyone in between. There’s a lot of opportunities for kids at this school that they otherwise wouldn’t get.”
The Senate has yet to pass its own bill updating the McKinney Act, and Mr. Salmon said he had asked that lawmakers hold a hearing in Phoenix and visit the Pappas School.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said.
The law center report recommends that existing programs that serve homeless children separately from others should be converted into resource centers that help move homeless children into traditional public schools.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week as Barriers to the Education Of Homeless Cited