State Senator Wayne Fontana of Pittsburgh has proposed legislation that would ultimately lead toward establishing a strong statewide system for educating homeless children.
Senate Bill 1414 would create a 19-member task force that includes the Secretaries of the Department of Education, Public Health and Welfare, plus the chair of the PA Housing Finance Agency, and officials from school districts, social service agencies and organizations that help homeless families. Their job would be to develop a report on the educational needs and status of the homeless-child population by assessing and analyzing their demographics and impediments to educational success. It would also help eliminate existing jurisdictional issues. The task force would then present the report to the governor and General Assembly within a year of its initial meeting.
Fontana says the inspiration for this bill came when employees of Allegheny County homeless shelters urged him to address the issue of homeless and uneducated children in Pennsylvania.
Fontana says there are about 875 homeless children in Allegheny County alone, and this number is rising. He feels it is the states "obligation and responsibility" to give them access to educational resources. "These kids and their families have already been through so much. We can not allow their education to be another thing that is lost to them."
Fontana says he has received positive feedback so far on the proposal, including a suggestion that children be on the task force, which he is considering. He says hopefully this fall the Senate Educational Committee will hold hearings on the bill to discuss and raise awareness about the issue.