Racine Unified School District would receive $100,000 from the state to help educate homeless kids, if a bill proposed by Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, becomes law.
Mason introduced Assembly Bill 832, and today, the companion Senate Bill, SB 495, had a hearing before the Wisconsin State Education Committee. It would provide an additional $100 for each homeless student in the state public eduction system; RUSD has 1,000 homeless students out of 8,100 statewide.
"It is considerably more expensive and challenging for school districts to educate homeless students. Allocating modest additional resources to address this problem is critical in aiding our districts in meeting the state academic standards and reducing the achievement gap between the rich and the poor," Mason said.
Also testifying today was Liz Erven, the homeless student coordinator for Racine Unified School District, who shared with the committee some of the challenges that homeless students face.
Under Mason's bill, the $100 per student would be categorical state aid -- in other words, supplied totally by the state and not requiring any funds from local property taxes. In addition, it must be spent on the purpose designated, although the bill does not specify how each school district should use the funds.
"It's intended to address an improved academic performance," Mason said. "The premise behind the bill is if you come to school not knowing where you're going to sleep that night, or not having breakfast, or having to stay up all night, all that affects performance. We leave it loose enough: if the student needs tutoring, fine, the school can do that with the funds. If what they really need is something that addresses their home situation, a safer environment, the schools can do that, too."
"Being homeless comes with so many contingencies ... I can't even imagine," Mason said. "It's up to each district. It's all deferred to Liz Erven's program, which requires the schools to keep track of homeless kids (a requirement of No Child Left Behind). If what they need most is shoes, so they don't come to school with frostbite, do that; if what they need is after-school tutoring to get them through fractions, the schools can do that. It's different from situation to situation."