Kingsport schools serve record number of homeless students

Rick Wagner • May 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The city school system this school year served an all-time record number of homeless students, 320 as of Monday.

The 21 percent increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13 continued an upward trend dating back to the 2007-08 school year and except for one year going back to 2003-04.

The number of homeless students identified and served in the system since then has more than doubled, from 151 to 320.

Michele Wilder, coordinator of the Homeless Education Program, at the May 16 Board of Education work session, said the increase likely is partly due to the school system doing a better job over time in identifying homeless students, as defined by the federal government, and partly due to the lingering effects of a down economy.

The original presentation had 319 students and 65 siblings from 197 families identified as homeless in the system, but Wilder added a student to the program Monday.

For 2012-13, the system had identified and served 320 homeless students and 65 siblings, the later group mostly pre-school children not enrolled in Kingsport City Schools, Wilder said.

Statistics show the number of homeless children in the system increased from 151 in 2003-04 to 158 in 2004-05 and 206 in 2005-06 before doing down to 166 in 2006-07. Wilder said the 2005-06 jump was mostly caused by students coming into the system from areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

In 2007-08, the number jumped to 186, followed by 196 in 2008-09, 203 in 2009-10, 241 in 2010-11, 263 in 2011-12 and 320 the school year that ends Thursday.

The students are considered homeless as defined by the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act. That definition is “lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

The homeless designation includes students who are “doubled up” with friends and family out of necessity, not choice, as well as those living in shelters, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, have been thrown out of their home by a parent or guardian or have run away from home.

By school, the highest number of homeless students, 57, is at Sevier Middle School, followed by 50 at Lincoln Elementary, 44 at Jackson Elementary, 43 at Dobyns-Bennett High and 32 at Roosevelt Elementary.

Washington Elementary has 24, Kennedy Elementary 21, Jefferson Elementary 15, Robinson Middle 13, Johnson Elementary 12, Cora Cox Academy, an alternative school, four, Adams Elementary three and the Palmer Center pre-K program two.

As for the primary residences of homeless students on initial identification, Wilder said 79 percent were doubled up, 15 percent in motels, 6 percent in shelters and 0 percent in inadequate housing. However, she said one student living in a campground would be considered inadequate housing but was not enough to change the 0 percent when rounding off numbers.

Of the 320, 67.5 percent are from Title 1 schools, and 26 percent are special education students. All homeless students are eligible for free school meals.

Wilder said the students received various services, including 116 who got zoning and tuition exemptions. By law, homeless students can continue attending their school of origin for the remainder of the school year or for the duration of homelessness, even if they move out of the zone, as long as it is in the students’ best interest. That meant that 68 got transportation assistance, either by a bus or with a fuel voucher for parents.

Other services include tutoring for 11, school supplies for 123, school meals requests for 129, school enrollment for 20, emergency food for 187, clothing for 116 and help with obtaining birth certificates or school records for 10.

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