State Senate Wants Equal Education Opportunities For Homeless Children

May 7, 2012

The Pennsylvania Senate last week gave unanimous approval to a measure to create a task force on homeless children's education.

Senate Bill 157 will create a committee within the state Department of Education guided by the Secretaries of Education and Public Welfare in addition to representatives from local agencies that assist homeless children and families across the state.

The sponsor, Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny County), said the lack of a consistent home for a child is no reason to discriminate.

"Children really are the key to our future, and we must do everything in our ability to make sure no child slips through the cracks," Fontana said. "As a society we owe it to the youth to make sure they have every opportunity for a quality education."

A 2001 federal law defines homeless children as "those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence." Last fall, the Pennsylvania Education Law Center sued Carlynton School District, which covers Carnegie, Crafton and Rosslyn Farms, in a case involving four homeless children who were removed from the school district for not maintaining permanent residence within the district. A settlement was reach in March, guaranteeing homeless children in the commonwealth the right to attend any school district in which the family has a "substantial connection."

Fontana said the task force can benefit many children.

"There are thousands of homeless children in Pennsylvania, and tens of thousands within the United States," Fontana said. "I hope that this task force will develop and make recommendations for a statewide proposal to develop a strong educational foundation for these youths."

The bill will now be sent to the state House of Representatives for consideration.