Despite the summer weather, we can feel the buzz of the Commonwealth gearing up for another year – parents buying school supplies; teachers setting up classrooms; first day of school pictures being posted on facebook; figuring out bus schedules and stops, carpools, riding the T, and safest walking routes; uniforms, clothes and shoes; fresh haircuts; first day jitters; and new friends, new routines, new teachers.
But as this headline recently pointed out, thousands of children are “shouldering more than backpacks.” Last academic year the Massachusetts Department of Education identified 19,515 children who were shouldering homelessness along with the homework in their backpacks. Here is the breakdown by grade:
This trend, unfortunately, is not getting better. As the graph below shows, we have seen a steady increase of students identified as homeless in recent years.
Source: MA DOE
This data does not include college students, which in MA, is something we must also consider. Not only because of the number of colleges, but also the job market and competition that results from both. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently put out a brief and the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted one mom shouldering college and homelessness.
Back to the subject at hand: the 19,515 school aged students who were homeless last year and the potential 20,000 that may face homelessness this year. Here is a list of links, information and thoughts:
- Children who are homeless have special right per the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act of 1987
- The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty put together this FAQ on the act. It is an oldie and wonky, but the facts remain the same.
- Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education’s page regarding McKinney-Vento, complete with contact lists, regulations, data, power points and more
- Of note, there has been one significant clarification made this school year: the US Department of Education only considers a student’s school of origin rather than their district of origin relative to the enforcement of the McKinney-Vento law. Massachusetts officials previously interpreted the law to mean the district (IE town or school system) of origin but the Feds have issued guidance that MA officials can only enforce that children can remain in their physical school of origin if they are forced to move out of their community by homelessness. In other words, if a child has been promoted from elementary school to middle school, s/he does not have a school of origin and must begin the new school year in the town where the student resides, not where they lived prior to becoming homeless. Same goes for students graduating from middle school to high school who may be in a shelter or motel in a new community. All other protections regarding enrollment remain. A school can allow the student to attend school in the district of origin, but cannot be reimbursed for transportation per the US Dept of Education under the McKinney-Vento Law.
- This series and video, Trying to Live, Trying to Learn is from last year and from Denver, but it is a great piece of journalism and is about the same challenges we face in Massachusetts.
- Homes for Families (on our own and in partnership with Project Hope) has done trainings for teachers, corps members, teaching students and visited with students in elementary and high school classrooms. We are always up for talking about homeless, awareness and solutions. Contact us if you are interested in learning more.
- Massachusetts ranks as the best state in America for our education system. We have an obligation to educate children who are facing homelessness, to provide supports and to track outcomes.
- We also have an obligation to advocate for solutions; 19,515 is a number that is unacceptable. Not because of the cost of transporting children. It is simply unjust and wrong. In a state as wealthy as ours, as compassionate as ours, and as smart as ours – we must work together to #BendTheTrend. We can not watch the number continue to increase.
- If we are serious about ending homelessness, as a society, we must start with the children.
Most lists end at number 10, not 9 But final thoughts are being left to you. What should be added?