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Homeless student population growing

As the rate of foreclosures continues to rise, School District 196 is seeing more cases of homeless students.

Students in such situations typically don't have the financial means to continue their education. In cooperation with a federal act, the district provides schooling and transportation for students deemed homeless.

While foreclosures impact families in every aspect of life, and financial troubles are an emotional burden, District 196 is trying to do its part to have a stabilizing presence in students' lives.

"I think (school) is probably the one stable area of their life, in many cases," said Greg Clausen, the district's coordinator of prevention services. "They've been uprooted from their home. Maybe there's been a parent separation, or there's been some type of death in the family. Really, it's a variety of things. But with the McKinney-Vento act, one of the things it accomplishes is getting them a stable educational environment, one of the few areas maybe of their life that they can count on at this time."

The McKinney-Vento Federal Homeless Act requires public and charter schools to provide services that, "remove barriers to enrollment, attendance and educational success of the student."

Due in part to the housing crisis, District 196 has seen a dramatic rise in the number of students deemed homeless. Those students are provided an education, paid for primarily with federal money.

There were 127 students in the program last year, up from 96 during the 2007-08 school year. The past two years there has been at least a 24 percent increase each year.

There were just two students in the program in 2004-05. In 2005-06 there were 33. A year later the number reached 48.

The biggest jump came in 2007-08.

"I think the economy is probably the big thing," Clausen said. "We've had a few families that I can think of that were displaced because of fires. But, for the most part, foreclosures have been the main thing."

The district must set aside 3 percent of the money received from Title I to fund the program.

"That's a fixed amount and that goes for tutoring, supplies and fees that they need assistance with," Clausen said. "Beyond that, we get 80 percent, approximately, reimbursed on the transportation side.That is about it. Those are the only costs."

In 2008-09, there were 127 students that were identified as homeless and received assistance through the program. It affected 58 families.

The students were transported 113,000 miles at $2.36 per mile.

There have been a total of 14 homeless students identified so far this school year, with seven families affected. Clausen said this year's numbers are comparable to this same point last year.

There is a bit of good news for Clausen and everyone involved.

The district had a carry-over of just six students in the program from last year.

Clausen hopes it's a good sign for the future of the students.

"I was surprised because I thought we'd carry over more," Clausen said.

He cautions that situations can change, and affect enrollment in the program.

Students can be forced to take shelter outside the district and remain in District 196 schools. District 196 is then responsible for transportation.

The homeless students are often identified through coordination with county services.

And, families can reach a point where they are no longer considered homeless.

"We also have to make a determination," Clausen said. "Say we identified a homeless student and that student is living in a location in Burnsville. At the end of the year, they are still there, and if they come back and say,'We'd like to come back into your district,' one of the things we'd have to consider is if they are now in a stable environment that's going to continue. If that's the case, many times we'll say no. And there is an appeals process, so they can appeal.

"That's really kind of the difficult thing about this, is kind of determining when you are no longer homeless."

Tough decisions, but stability is what the students and district strive for.