IN VOLUSIA CLIMBS
DELAND — The number of homeless children attending Volusia County public schools has increased more than five-fold since 2003, with most of them enrolled in elementary schools, the School Board heard Tuesday night.
“Our numbers are high for Florida and high for a county this size,” Pam Woods, the school district’s homeless education liaison, told the School Board.
Volusia schools enrolled 1,990 homeless students last school year, compared to 350 in 2003, Woods reported. Volusia Schools has about 62,000 total students this year.
Under federal law, children are considered homeless when they lack “fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence.”
Woods said that includes children whose families share temporary housing with others; stay in shelters, motels or campgrounds; spend their nights in cars, parks or other public places; and children who are abandoned or awaiting foster-care placement.
Many of Volusia’s homeless children fit into the first category, she said, doubling up with other people in temporary situations because their families lost their housing.
That’s often a tenuous situation, Woods said, adding: “Many of our families are one argument away from being out on the street.”
School districts are required by federal and state law to identify homeless children and provide education for them.
Volusia has $120,000 from a federal grant and another $102,000 this year in federal economic-stimulus money to spend on its programs that focus on improving homeless children’s school attendance, academic achievement and school stability.
The district already offers after-school tutoring at homeless shelters, Woods said, and will start another tutoring program at Longstreet Elementary in Daytona Beach in October because that school serves large numbers of homeless children.
Woods said the district also works with other community agencies in stretching all the available resources to serve as many homeless children as possible.
One example is an agreement with the Family Promise program in New Smyrna Beach to provide office space for a new case manager who will be hired with the federal stimulus money to work with homeless families in that area.
In other business Tuesday night, the School Board agreed to borrow up to $35 million through sale of tax anticipation notes to cover its cash flow needs until it collects the property taxes on which its budget depends.