Fayette County schools will have a full-time staffer to assist the district’s nearly 800 homeless students beginning this fall, school officials said last week.
The hire comes as the number of homeless students in Fayette County schools has ballooned, doubling in four years.
For the 2014-15 school year, the latest year that homeless student totals are available, Fayette County reported 795 homeless students. In 2011-12, 393 kids were identified as homeless.
Fayette schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the homeless coordinator will be in place by the start of the school year. The school district made the decision this spring to dedicate a full-time staff person to the issue, Deffendall said.
A Herald-Leader series last August found that Kentucky had the highest percentage of homeless students in the country. Nearly 5 percent of Kentucky’s 685,167 students were classified as homeless in the 2012-13 school year, the latest year that homeless-student totals were available for all 50 states. Kentucky’s rate of homeless students was more than double that of all surrounding states except West Virginia (2.94 percent) and Missouri (2.89 percent).
Nearly 5 percent of Kentucky's 685,167 students were classified as homeless in the 2012-13 school year, the highest percentage of homeless students in the country.
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said 12 of 172 Kentucky school districts have full-time homeless education coordinators or are hiring one. Some — including Pike County — have had one for decades. Other districts that have full-time homeless education coordinators or are hiring one are Whitley, Jefferson, Henderson, Campbell, Jessamine and Greenup counties, and the Covington, Newport, Paducah and Erlanger-Elsmere independent districts.
During the 2014-15 school year, only four school districts had full-time homeless education coordinators, state education officials said in August 2015.
By federal statute, all school districts must designate a staff person as a coordinator for homeless education. But the vast majority of those staffers have other job titles. In Fayette County, Faith Thompson, an associate director of student support services, has been the district’s homeless education coordinator. But Thompson also has other duties besides coordinating services provided to the nearly 800 students who do not have a permanent address.
Moreover, there is little funding for school districts to address student homelessness. Only 17 school districts — including Fayette County — received federal funding, called McKinney-Vento grants, to address the myriad of needs for homeless students during this school year.
Deffendall said the money for the new position will come from the general fund and won’t be taken from Fayette County’s McKinney-Vento grant. Fayette County received received a $49,000 grant and will receive the same amount the next two years.
The U.S. Department of Education classifies as homeless any student who lives in a shelter, motel or campground, car, outside, or with another family member because of loss of housing or economic hardship.
Education data shows that children without permanent addresses struggle in school. On Kentucky’s year-end test, the percentage of homeless students scoring proficient or distinguished in math and reading was 15 to 18 points lower than the student population as a whole in 2013-14.
And they struggle to finish school.
Children facing homelessness already face many obstacles and it’s important that we work together so they have every opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. We can’t expect children to learn when they don’t know where they’ll sleep tonight or where their next meal will come from.
Charlie Lanter, the director of Lexington’s office of homelessness prevention and intervention
According to a 2014 report from America’s Promise Alliance, homeless students are 87 percent more likely than their peers to drop out of school before graduation.
Charlie Lanter, director of Lexington’s office of homeless prevention and intervention, said having a full-time staffer dedicated to improving education outcomes for homeless students could have a dramatic impact on test scores and those students’ lives.
“We just learned about the new position and don’t know any details, but it certainly has the potential to be very positive for children and their families experiencing homelessness,” Lanter said. “Children facing homelessness already face many obstacles, and it’s important that we work together so they have every opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. We can’t expect children to learn when they don’t know where they’ll sleep tonight or where their next meal will come from.”
Although Lexington recently saw a drop in the number of homeless people and a dramatic decrease in the number of chronically homeless, families who are homeless aren’t always represented in those numbers, Lanter said.
The number of homeless kids in Fayette County schools in 2011-2012: 393 The number of homeless kids in Fayette County schools in 2014-2015: 795
Many times, families who are homeless live with relatives or friends, or they sleep in vehicles, and they’re not represented in the city’s homeless count, officials have said.
To address the growing problem, the city of Lexington financed an emergency housing program for homeless parents with children. The two-year, $200,000 grant provides vouchers for hotel rooms and apartments.
Marty Jones, programs manager for Community Action Council of Lexington, said the program has served five families since the end of January, and there are 11 families on the waiting list.
The demand is great, he said.
“Fortunately, we were able to get a federal grant for rapid rehousing and will be able to use those funds soon,” Jones said. The federal grant of more than $330,000 will be used to provide additional emergency housing for families.
In addition, $90,000 from the city’s office of affordable housing has been used to remodel a home on Wilgus Avenue for a homeless family. That house, built in partnership with the Home Builders Association of Lexington, Community Action and the Lexington Housing Authority, will be dedicated at a ceremony Monday.
The number of children counted as homeless in the Fayette County public schools continues to climb. The district reports the number of kids who are living outside, in shelters or living with a family member or friend because of economic hardship each year to the state Department of Education.
Fayette County homeless students: