State Auditor Suzanne Bump has determined that requiring towns like Danvers to pay to transport and educate homeless children sheltered in local motels represents an unfunded mandate costing communities millions.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act allows homeless families relocated to an emergency shelter or motel in another community to send their children to school either in their new host city or town, or to continue being educated in their hometown. If the family chooses the latter, the host community and the hometown must share the cost of transporting children back and forth.
Danvers has had hundreds of homeless families living in its four "budget motels" since the start of the economic downturn at the end of 2008, and the town has been looking for state aid to pay for transporting students at the motels back to their home districts.
A year ago, state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, appealed to Bump's office, saying the transportation requirement put an undue burden on communities and was an unfunded mandate. Bump agreed.
But she also ruled that requiring school systems like Danvers to educate homeless children from the motels, and pay all costs associated with that, is also an unfunded mandate for which the state should pick up the tab.
"For some communities, this plan cuts into their school district's overall ability to provide a quality education," Bump said.
As of Oct. 11, there were 1,410 families living in motels in 33 communities across the state. Six of these communities, including Danvers, host more than 100 families.
Danvers, a town of 26,400, has about 8 percent of the state's motel families, the auditor wrote in a letter to Speliotis. The town does not receive any money under the McKinney-Vento Act; only urban areas do, Speliotis said. But it cost the town $145,140 last year to transport homeless children, Bump said.