BOSTON — A statewide survey found that Massachusetts school districts are projected to spend close to $11.3 million this fiscal year in transporting homeless students after they move.
In releasing the survey results, State Auditor Suzanne Bump called on lawmakers to make an appropriation to refund municipalities for what she determined in two analyses last year to be "an unfunded state mandate."
Due to the state’s participation in the federal McKinney-Vento program, cities and towns are required to provide transportation and education to some homeless children after they are placed in a different municipality for temporary housing.
“I do not question the wisdom or validity of the commonwealth’s decision to enable homeless parents to choose whether to enroll their children in schools of their temporary host community or keep them in their original school,” Bump said. “Its embrace of a federal program, however, does require the affected school systems to incur new costs.”
The state’s application of the McKinney-Vento program requires the community hosting homeless students and the community from which they originate to share the cost of the students’ transportation.
Bump's survey found that Boston Public Schools spends the most to meet the mandate, with a projected FY 2012 transportation cost of $760,949. Next is Springfield Public Schools at $562,650.
The survey shows that 33 communities are projected to spend more than $100,000 to meet the requirement.
Along with the results of the survey, Bump sent a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and members of the Legislature in which she recommends that lawmakers consider fully funding the mandated McKinney-Vento costs for FY 2012 in a supplemental budget appropriation, and provide ongoing reimbursements in future budgets.
“For the cities and towns of the commonwealth, this plan cuts into their school districts’ overall ability to provide quality education,” Bump said. “The costs incurred have the potential of forcing schools to cut teachers, enlarge class sizes and make other expenditures in tight budget conditions.”
The state's Local Mandate Law provides that any post-1980 state law or regulation that imposes additional costs on any municipality must either be fully funded by the commonwealth or be subject to local acceptance. Bump’s Division of Local Mandates is responsible for determining the local financial impact of proposed or existing state mandates.
While the Local Mandate Law does not apply to federal laws and programs, Bump noted that McKinney-Vento is a program that the state entered voluntarily, "inviting the regulations and financial obligations on local school departments."