Representative O’Day a key player in securing $11.3 million for Municipalities and Students Experiencing Homelessness

BOSTON—A little over a week after the Governor signed the Fiscal Year 2013 state budget into law,  the State Representative Jim O’Day, the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and other anti-poverty advocates across the state are still celebrating the allocation of $11.3 million in funding that will ensure school stability for students experiencing homelessness.  The initiative to secure the funding had widespread, bi-partisan support throughout the Legislature, and from cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

Representative James O’ Day (D-West Boylston), a champion of issues pertaining to homelessness and a key supporter of the budget campaign to appropriate the McKinney-Vento transportation funding, says: “I am happy to see that the McKinney-Vento funding was included in the final budget for FY ’13.  Worcester reported over 2,500 students experiencing homelessness in the 2010-2011 school year, and the city is projected to have spent $425,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 on McKinney-Vento transportation costs. West Boylston reported 8 students experiencing homelessness, and the town is projected to spend over $2,000 in transporting students experiencing homelessness under McKinney-Vento in FY’12. The ability to receive reimbursement for these expenditures will provide an enormous amount of relief to the city’s budget.”

The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that ensures students experiencing homelessness have access to a stable, quality education that meets their unique needs.  The McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act has many provisions to help students experiencing homelessness overcome the enormous obstacles that they face both inside and outside of school.

One such provision pertaining to transporting students experiencing homelessness to and from school became the subject of much concern and debate over the past year due to the financial hardship it can place on municipalities. This provision allows students experiencing homelessness and residing in temporary shelter outside their original community to attend school either in the district where they currently reside (the “host community”), or at their original school (“school of origin”), if that is in there best interest.  If a student chooses to attend their school of origin while residing in another community, the school of origin and the host community must share the costs of transporting the student to and from school.

The budget campaign came about this fall, after the Division of Local Mandates in the Office of State Auditor Suzanne Bump determined that it is the state’s responsibility to fund transportation costs associated with the McKinney-Vento Act. The Auditor’s report also found that if state funding is not appropriated, communities can seek a court exemption from complying with the McKinney-Vento Act, which would have disastrous consequences for students experiencing homelessness.

Robyn Frost, Executive Director of the Coalition, says: “By appropriating this funding, the Legislature and Governor Patrick are ensuring that students experiencing homelessness can continue their education with minimal disruption and that municipal budgets are not negatively impacted.  The Coalition applauds of those who worked tirelessly to secure this funding and would especially like to thank Representative O’Day for championing this issue during the budget debate.  Representative O’Day has been a committed advocate for ending and preventing homelessness and poverty, and his work on these issues in the Legislature has been invaluable.”

While West Boylston, Worcester, and communities across the state certainly won big with the funding appropriation, the biggest winners are the students who are experiencing homelessness and are eligible for transportation under the McKinney-Vento Act.  These students often have little to no stability or structure in their life aside from school, and with serious consequences; a lack of stable housing has a severe and negative impact on the social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral development of children. 

With regards to the school stability the funding will provide, Representative O’Day says: “Besides the obvious positive fiscal impact the funding will have on cities and towns throughout the state, it is critically important that we adequately fund student’s transportation needs, regardless of their housing status, in the name of confluence in education.”

Kelly Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy for the Coalition, elaborates further: “The school stability options provided by the McKinney-Vento Act help to alleviate some of the problems faced by school districts and students with high homelessness rates; allowing students to stabilize their education by remaining in their school of origin benefits the student and the school community as a whole. The Coalition is thrilled that both students and schools will continue to benefit from educational stabilization efforts due to the appropriation of the state funds.”

Numerous studies show that homelessness negatively impacts academic achievement across all levels.  For instance, national numbers show that, compared with stably housed classmates, students experiencing homelessness consistently have lower grades and test scores than their housed peers, change schools an average of 3 times per year, are more likely to be held back a year in school, and are frequently absent.  Attending one school consistently has positive impacts on the academic success of these students and mitigates some of these negative impacts that high mobility and homelessness has on a student.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is tasked with the process of creating, implementing, and overseeing a reimbursement system for all communities requesting funding for costs associated with transporting students under McKinney-Vento.