New federal education law aids homeless students

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JEFFERSON CITY - A federal education law that requires schools to provide transportation to homeless students is having an impact on Jefferson City Public Schools.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools are required to provide transportation to homeless students for the entire school year, regardless of whether they find permanent housing during that time.

"So, if a student becomes homeless in August and finds permanent housing in October, we still provide transportation through May, through the end of the school year," said Dawn Berhorst, director of student information, planning and assessment.

Berhorst said 106 students in Jefferson City Public Schools have spent time without permanent housing.

"When a student experiences homelessness, school attendance often fluctuates," Berhorst said.

She said the goal behind the law is keeping students in school. One aspect is the professional development of counseling staff and others to create awareness of homelessness.

The new law defines homeless students as those lacking a fixed, regular and adequate residence.

Berhorst used the example of a family who might be forced to move in with another family. 

"So even though they have shelter over their head and are being cared for, it's not considered fixed. At any moment, something could go wrong and they could be asked to leave," Berhorst said.

The United States Department of Education website says, "The law requires states to help ensure that all students have access to excellent teachers and positive, safe learning environments with necessary supports to prepare them for success in college, a career and life."

The Missouri Department of Education must submit its version of the plan by September 18, 2017.