Assignment: Education – Homeless Students

Homelessness in La Crosse County public schools has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years

Homelessness among kids in La Crosse County public schools has more than quadrupled in the past ten years.           

The following numbers of children were reported as homeless to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction at the end of last school year:

School District Number of children Bangor 2 Holmen 38 La Crosse 176 Onalaska 15 West Salem 32

Each of these students, by federal law, has the right to stay in their original school no matter where they are temporarily living. It’s up to the school district to figure out how to get them there.

So, every day, as part of her job, Shirley Levendoski helps children get to school. As an administrative assistant in the Pupil Services Department at the School District of La Crosse, Levendoski is responsible for finding a bus or taxi ride for students almost every day. She does this because these students don’t have any other option.

“I’ve got a couple of homeless students that I need some transportation,” Levendoski explains to the taxi company on the other end of the phone.

At any given time, the La Crosse School District works with about 100 students who are in homeless situations.

Federal law says public school districts must provide transportation to allow homeless students to continue to attend their school of origin to provide some stability during an unstable time.

“What research shows is that kids do regress academically, and I think socially and emotionally, every time they move. Especially have to move schools and start all over,” said Alicia Place, a social worker for the School District of La Crosse.

So, to keep kids in the school they started in, school districts provide free transportation.

“There’s a variety of ways that we can do that,” said Place. “We can do that with different bus routes. We have city … or school bus routes. We also can do bus passes for the city bus for some of our older students. Occasionally we might use cabs.”

It’s a service some homeless families depend on to get their children to school.

“The bus transportation really helps a lot,” said Brenda Rueckheim, who is currently living at the Salvation Army with her daughter. “Otherwise, we’d be walking.”

Instead, Brenda waits for her daughter at a specially arranged bus stop before they return to the Salvation Army.

“They’ve been really awesome. They help her out a lot,” said Rueckheim.

But all of this comes at a cost.

“In our state, it’s not funded legislation,” said Place. “So, we pay for it out of district funds.”

Over the past few years, that bill has been between $40,000-65,000 a year. This year, the cost will drop to about $10,000 because the school bus company adjusted their routes. But this La Crosse School District social worker says it’s the right thing to do.

“For their academic growth, their social growth, their emotional growth, it’s just critical that they’re in school every day possible,” said Place.

So, Levendoski continues to make calls to make sure all children have a way to get to school.