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Column Tue Mar 03 2009
Mechanics checked in with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who have the challenging task of fighting for the people who are probably most at risk during this economic recession -- the homeless.
On its Web site, the Coalition is urging people to contact their State Representative and express their opposition to HB0955, which would require students who move in the middle of the academic year to leave school at the end of a grading period as defined by the local school board. This bill doesn't specifically target homeless students, so what's the connection to the homeless?
"One question we have a lot is, 'There are other protections for homeless students. ..why do you care about this?'," says Patricia Nix-Hodes, associate director of the Law Project for the Coalition. "We think there are a lot of families that may not be literally homeless but are at risk of homelessness and could end up really needing the benefit of the law as currently written to allow students stability."
Current law, Nix-Hodes says, entitles students who are lawfully enrolled in a school to finish without being charged additional fees. In addition, most schools already have codes to address these kinds of situations. Why make it more difficult for students, she asks?
Under the proposed bill, parents can pay non-resident tuition if they want their child to remain in the same school. But in a recession where people are losing their jobs and facing foreclosures on homes at alarming rates, Coalition reps are concerned that this bill will only make matters worse for families.
"It's a bad idea, but it's a particularly bad time because you have more and more families in a housing crisis situation, so now is not the time," Nix-Hodes says. "It really works to hurt the lowest-income families the most because the [proposed] law actually permits a family to stay until the end of the school year if they pay non-resident fees. For families who have more of a choice, they could keep their child in and let them finish the school year. But for lower-income families, that's not really a choice because they don't have the resources."
According to statistics from the Coalition, 26,238 students were identified by school districts as homeless last year -- 10, 642 of them lived in Chicago -- and this number is rising.
Some of the bill's supporters argue that if a family will be moving, it's best to get students settled in their new school as soon as possible. But Nix-Hodes says that kind of logic isn't realistic nowadays.
"This all could work to harm kids academically," she says.
According to the Coalition, the bill was passed out of committee and is on its third reading.