(Orange, Texas)

June 14, 2014

Orange County sees rise in homeless students

Dawn Burleigh
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — Part 1 of 2

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a series of two concerning the correlation of poverty and a child’s education.)

Homeless is a word that conjures images of people covered in dirt, rags and sleeping in a cardboard box, if they are fortunate enough to find one.

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines homeless children and youths as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

“A child without a residence, such as moving from aunt to grandparent, or they live with their mother who is staying with family or a boyfriend would be defined as homeless,” James Colbert, West Orange-Cove CISD superintendent, said. “It is ‘floating residency’ not living on the streets. That is the extreme.”

Orange County has 301 students classified as “homeless,” according to the McKinney-Vento Act.

The percentage of economically disadvantaged students is more difficult to calculate because of the perception among older, high school students that their peers will discover they qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Texas defines economically disadvantaged students as students who participate in free or reduced lunches.

Children in poverty continue to suffer in Orange County, according to a child well-being report released in December by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The report shows that child poverty continues to increase despite economic recovery, underscoring the need for Texas to make greater investments that move children and their families into the middle class. The rate of children living in poverty has grown by 47 percent from 2000 to 2011, faster than the 18 percent growth rate of child population in Texas over the same period of time. In Orange County, the child poverty rate went up by 13.6 percent, while the child population went down by 12.1 percent.

The report finds that far too many kids lack the basics needed to reach their full potential. According to the new Texas KIDS COUNT report, Investing in Our Future: 2013 State of Texas Children, outcomes for kids in health, education, nutrition, and safety often hinge on whether they live in poverty.

The Texas KIDS COUNT report shows that 52.8 percent of public school students in Orange County are economically disadvantaged, which can negatively impact how well they do in school. For example, 27 percent of economically disadvantaged third through eighth graders meet the 2013 STAAR Standards for reading, compared to 48 percent of non-economically disadvantaged kids.

“We have experienced the same numbers as the study showed in test scores here,” Pauline Hargrove, LC-M ISD superintendent, said. “The kids know and feel the poverty and respond to it.”

Hargrove also said the physically needs of the underprivileged children need to be met first so they can be ready to receive an education.

Stacey Bristor, LC-M ISD director of secondary curriculum and instructions, said she has seen children arrive to school in flip-flops during the winter because that was the only pair of shoes the child had to wear.

In some cases, a student will not apply for reduced or free lunches.

“No one will know because we do it the same for all students at the check-out,” Bristor said. “But they [the student] know.”

Hargrove said underprivileged students have more immediate needs such as being hungry or cold which impacts their ability to learn.

“It is hard to concentrate when you are hungry,” Hargrove said.

WO-C’s Colbert said there are challenges with younger students.

“They are limited with clothing and tired from not enough sleep,” he said. “People overlook the home environment. It is difficult to convince the need for proper educational discipline when there are tons of parents for athletic or other performances and Open House has little participation.”

Colbert said parents are critical partners in education.

“Education first is nonnegotiable,” he said. “We have to get these children to care about a career and college so they can do something different than the family. Our kids are tough, we can’t underestimate them. They have been through a lot and may lack academic discipline. We cannot limit our expectations of a child.”

The numbers in the study did not surprise Colbert who said the numbers were unfortunate.

Orange County public school superintendents agreed there was a difference on the scores between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students but the percentage difference was not as pronounced as in the study.

“It is misinformation that these students can’t be educated. Their basic needs have to be met to reach their potential,” Dr. Stephen Patterson, Orangefield ISD superintendent, said. “Poverty, not circumstances, gets in the way of learning.”

Each of the five public school districts in Orange County said that while economically disadvantaged children tend to have a lower pass rate for the STAAR Standards test, the districts strive to narrow the gap so that all students will succeed.