Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump says school districts statewide are expected to pay over $11 million this fiscal year to transport and educate homeless children under a federal program adopted by the state. Bump calls it an unfunded state mandate, leaving school districts scrambling to pay the costs under already constrained budgets. The federal McKinney-Vento program requires both the community hosting homeless students and the community from which students originate to share the cost of the students’ transportation. The report by State Auditor Bump shows 33 communities across the Baystate are projected to spend more than $100,000 each to meet the program's requirements. Cost estimates for Springfield, Holyoke, and Worcester fall at more than $300,000. And Alvin Morton, an assistant superintendent for student support services for Chicopee Public Schools, says his district is projected to spend more than $431,000 this year on the program.
“We are probably 43 to 45% higher in transportation costs than we were last year when it comes to transporting homeless students”
Morton says he welcomes the Auditor's request for the state to fully fund the mandated cost. But he says, just as importantly, the state should also move to place homeless families in shelters or homes closer to their communities of origin to provide them a more stable environment.
“Kids moving from place to place, from school district to school district, I mean, it creates gaps in their educational learning. It creates a whole lot of other different problems from…you know, kids are not going to know where they’re going to eat that night or where they’re actually going to sleep that night. And you know these things manifest themselves in different ways when kids come to school, whether they’re acting out or whether they’re sleeping in school.”
The Auditor has sent letters to the Governor and legislative leaders urging them to include the transportation money as part of a supplemental budget appropriation.