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March/April 2014

Homeless choices equal unfunded district mandates
By Hank Boer and Richard Dombrowski

Hank Boer is a professor of education at Aurora University. Richard Dombrowski is an adjunct professor of education at the University of St. Francis and Aurora University. Both are former Illinois school administrators. This is a condensation of an article they wrote for the Illinois Association of School Business Officials in fall 2013 and is used with their permission.

Homeless students have an increasing effect on the fiscal condition of Illinois public school districts.   Referencing the McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act and the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) defines homeless families as:   “those who reside in a shelter, motel, vehicle, campground, on the street or doubled up with relatives.” This definition raises an immediate residency question that directly affects which school district homeless children should attend. According to ISBE, homeless parents are not required to submit proof of residency when they register their children for school; however, a school may require parents or guardians to submit an address or other information for contact purposes. The state board has determined that parents have a choice and may select whichever school district is in the best interest of their children— the school of origin, — the one they attended when they were last permanently housed, or the school in which the student was last enrolled, or any school in which non-homeless students living in the attendance area are eligible to attend. These students are entitled to immediate enrollment according to ISBE and enrollment cannot be denied or delayed because of lack of school records or immunization.

Numerous fiscal questions arise as to how local, state and federal resources are allotted to homeless students. Local property taxes are levied to cover educational expenses for students who reside in that district.

 If a significant number of homeless students attend the school district it may have a negative effect on that district being able to continue providing high quality educational services. And then transportation issues arise involved with getting homeless students from the area where they currently may reside with relatives to their district of origin or to their choice of districts. Those costs can be expensive, especially if special education students are involved or the distance to transport is significant.

Increased expenditures in the district chosen by the homeless family may be incurred because of increased teacher salaries, teacher benefits, teacher aide salaries, teacher aide benefits, capital outlay, classroom supplies, support services and other related educational costs.

Additional costs that the receiving school districts will incur as a result of educating students who actually live in a different district can be found in the waiver of student fees as are required in Sections 10-20.13 and 34-21.6 of the School Code. Examples of waivers of student fees apply to the following: charges for required textbooks/instructional materials, locks, towels, laboratory equipment, field trip fees, uniform/equipment fees for varsity and intramural sports, shop/home economic fees, graduation fees, school records fees, school health insurance fees, and driver education fees. Obviously, the school district educating homeless students who reside in a different school district are accepting additional fiscal responsibilities.

As the number of homeless students grows, so do the costs to educate them.

The State Board website at shows current homeless statistics for all Illinois counties. The numbers per county can be few such as two listed for both Hardin and Brown counties in 2012. But they also can be substantial like 901 listed for Winnebago County ( Rockford) and 656 for Peoria, and 14,409 for Cook County.

A story in the November 5, 2013, State Journal Register noted an increase in homeless students for Springfield Public Schools from 473 in 2008-09 to 661 in 2012-13.

School districts may experience actual costs to transport homeless students that are many times greater than the per pupil non-reimbursed allowable transportation cost.

Legislation affecting homeless students has made district boundaries more fluid and affected district funding as well.

Obviously a school district educating homeless students who reside in a different school district accepts additional fiscal responsibilities. Perhaps the question should be; “Should ISBE reimburse a receiving district for the additional cost of student waiver fees?” Likewise we might ask: “Should federal resources allotted to students (e.g. Title I Title II Title III and Title IV entitlement grants) be readjusted more often than the 10-year U.S. census so that a student who becomes homeless doesn’t remain in the count with the original district? Another fiscally significant question might be: “Should ISBE reimburse school districts for additional expenses associated with homeless students who reside in a different school district than where they are receiving educational services?” Tables on the ISBE website that list costs to transport homeless students may help you decide how to pursue answers to these questions.

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