As a Pennsylvanian concerned with providing a quality education to all of our children and even as a member of the state House Education Committee, I was largely unaware of the severe challenges of homeless children in accessing education until recently.
I have been pleased to work with a remarkable organization working to address this need, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, to introduce legislation that would require the state to seek solutions to this problem. It has also been my pleasure to see the benefits the HCEF is already providing to children and families.
I was shocked to learn that children now make up the largest proportion of the homeless population in Allegheny County, at 36 percent. In January 2010, 875 children with an average age of 7.5 were being served by homelessness programs in the county. Unfortunately, while our schools should serve as a stable and protective environment for these children, homeless children are often shifted from school to school or lack access to the classroom altogether.
My legislation House Bill 2688, introduced in partnership with Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-19, would establish a state-level task forced led by the Secretary of Education to undertake a comprehensive study of homeless children’s access to education and report its findings to the legislature.
This will allow us to fully understand the scope of this issue and the steps needed to address it. I will be working to advance this bill into law as soon as possible to allow this important work to begin.
In the meantime, I urge everyone who is able to offer their support to HCEF as it works to serve this vulnerable population. Among other programs, HCEF has established 11 Resource Centers/Learning Libraries at residential facilities serving homeless families and awarded nearly $25,000 in mini-grants last year to 14 partner agencies providing innovative education programming. Please visit www.homelessfund.org to learn more or to donate.