More Homeless Students Identified In Oklahoma

Wednesday, December 26th 2007, 9:34 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More than 8,200 Oklahoma students were identified as homeless during the 2006-2007 school year, according to a state report. The performance report filed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act identified 3,452 children as homeless the year before, but state education officials say the increase is likely because of better identification of homeless students.

Even last school year's higher number of students probably still doesn't account for every homeless student, said Shelly Hickman, spokeswoman for the state Education Department.

It may not always be obvious who is homeless. Under federal guidelines, homeless students include anyone who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate place to sleep.

That means those who double-up with another family _ by hardship, not by choice _ are considered homeless.

Most homeless students in Oklahoma _ 70 % _ are considered homeless because they are doubled up.

Nationally, public schools identified more than 905,000 homeless students in kindergarten through 12th grade last school year, according to recent federal legislation.

More than 1.3 million children are homeless at some point during the year, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

Educators say the greatest school-related barrier to helping the children be successful is with trouble meeting enrollment requirements, such as academic and immunization records, according to the state performance report.

School districts help students obtain those records. School districts also help youths with needs such as housing, counseling, health care, school supplies and activity fees, transportation and clothing.

``Our main goal is to make sure the homeless students in our district have the same experience as any other students,'' said Brooke Davis, the homeless education coordinator for the Oklahoma City Public Schools District.

``It helps the kids have stability where they don't have it elsewhere.''

Last year, 1,365 students in Oklahoma City's public schools were identified as homeless.

Bus drivers will pick up students wherever they're staying to make sure they get to school, Davis said.

``If they're living in their car _we've picked up kids at the gas station,'' she said.

The district also provides city bus passes for students who participate in after-school activities such as athletics.

The state Education Department receives funding for homeless students under the McKinney-Vento law, and districts write grant applications to get the money.

This year's funds, totaling about $592,000, are going to 10 districts.

Last year the state received more than $673,000 for 11 districts.

Federal law also requires all school districts that receive Title I funds _ reserved for schools with high numbers of impoverished students _ to put some of that money toward services for homeless children.