2018-05-24 / Front Page

Child Homelessness Numbers Second in State

By Christopher Allen

Data reporting that Middletown trails only Providence in the number of students who are classified as “homeless” in Rhode Island was a principal topic at the May 17 Middletown School Committee meeting.

The data, which was disseminated by Rhode Island Kids Count, a child advocacy organization founded in 1994, numbered the amount of homeless Middletown students at 115. But Vice-Superintendent Linda Savastano disputed that number.

“We upload our data every single day,” she said. “Most days, when I pull [data], I’m not seeing a number [as high as 115].”

She said that the number is usually less than 100, which includes students in transition or those who were only in the district for a short period.

Earlier this year, Newport This Week reported a spike in reported homeless students in Newport schools (See “Newport Schools See Spike in Homelessness,” NTW, Jan. 4, 2018). The most recent Kids Count data ranked Newport fifth, after Providence, Middletown, Warwick and Woonsocket.

The committee reported to the council that the current number is 98, in Middletown, who are “identified as homeless or in foster care.” However, according to an email from Kids Count Communications Manager Katherine Chu, their compiled data “no longer includes children in foster care.” These students, under the new Department of Education guidelines, are now listed in a separate category.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provisions to protect and support school stability and success of students in foster care,” wrote Chu.

In 2016, the law was amended by Congress, removing “children awaiting foster care” from the definition of “homeless children and youths.”

A majority of these students, Savastano said, are categorized as “doubled-up,” meaning they are living or staying with extended family or friends, adding that because of the transitory state of many students, the number that is reported to the Rhode Island Department of Education tends to fluctuate.

Reporting guidelines changed since the transition from No Child Left Behind, a 2002 law that increased federal oversight of education, to ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) signed in to law in 2015.

“There are very specific defined categories that [Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE)] asks us to report,” Savastano said.

Committee Vice-Chair Theresa Spengler added that although not counted by the state as homeless, children in foster care should be considered in the conversation. “I think it’s important to explain that there are children in foster care. And they do have the right to be educated… Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation, but it may not be. It may be permanent.”

Federal money received as part of the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act is an important funding source to help the district's population of homeless students, Savastano said, and that because about half of these students are identified as needing special education, state funding according to the current formula is increased in kind.

The federal McKinney-Vento law, passed in 1987, defines homeless children as “those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Examples beside being doubled-up include children residing in motels, trailers or temporary shelters.

Reached by phone, RIDE Communications Officer, Megan Geoghegan, said Middletown is one of five districts that receive grants to assist in servicing their homeless students, along with Newport, North Kingston, Warwick and Woonsocket. “The numbers can fluctuate day to day,” she said. “Middletown is probably on the higher side because of the shelter.”

McKinney-Vento stipulates that children in temporary housing situations hold the right to attend school either in their home district or in the district they are currently residing in. So, a Middletown student who is living outside of the district still can commute back to Middletown if so chosen.

“Often the advocate wants to keep them here even if they are in another town…they want to keep them in their home school,” Savastano said.

The logistics and cost of moving students transitioning from a district or traveling to their home district can also pose a challenge. According to Geoghegan, DCYF (Department of Child and Family Services) does its best to provide transportation when possible. “But that is not a long-term solution,” she said.

“There are a lot of different categories that people don’t normally think of as homeless,” committee chair Kellie Simeone said. “But that being said, it’s still a bit surprising that we would have the second highest.”

Savastano said that the district will continue to search and apply for every possible federal, state and local grant. The district was awarded a McKinney-Vento Grant of $49,714 during the 2017-2018 school year.

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for June 21.

In other matters

.The committee shared a document containing answers to questions from the Town Council following their joint session on April 28 to discuss the upcoming budget adoption for fiscal year 2018-2019.

The following actions were approved:

.A director of finance policy revision

.Bids for Aquidneck and Forest Avenue shingle roof projects

.Procurement of electricity and natural gas from Direct Energy

.A reduction in force of 12 teachers

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