Past recordkeeping problems have come back to trouble Kansas City Public Schools and threaten the district’s services for homeless students.
The district has lost a $150,000 federal grant and this week let go of three of the five employees who had been on the homeless services team, including the program coordinator.
Superintendent Steve Green assured that the district would find a way to uphold its services by shifting duties among other district staffers.
“Children won’t see a difference,” he said.
But serving the more than 1,000 students and their families is complicated and demanding, said Ajia Tenney, the departed coordinator of the program.
Many students or their parents fear a stigma if they are discovered to be homeless, she said. They’re not just living in shelters or in their cars. Many have crowded into the homes of friends or relatives.
Many are teenagers on their own, couch surfing at nights in whoever’s home or apartment they can find, or sleeping outside.
Without intervention, children’s health is jeopardized and their education suffers.
“You have to be proactive and creative when families (at risk of being homeless) come into the schools,” Tenney said.
The district had fallen out of compliance with some of its federally funded programming because it hadn’t maintained enough records in previous years documenting its workers’ efforts to carry out the mission of the federal grants, state and district officials said.
Kansas City had received a waiver that allowed it to continue to receive funds while it reconciled its recordkeeping.
But earlier this month, the federal government told state officials that the waiver should not have included the funding for the homeless program, according to a statement from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Unfortunately, federal staff insisted that the $150,000 grant be reallocated to other districts in compliance,” the state said.
Kansas City was one of about eight school districts in the nation that had to return funding, a state spokeswoman said.
The funding had supported salaries of caseworkers, as well as outreach programs to help staff identify potentially homeless children. It helped support resources for families, including a food pantry, school uniforms and supplies, hygiene products and tutoring.
“This school district will not abandon them,” Green said of the students who need the services. “We will continue to provide the help they need and deserve.”
Said Tenney: “I hope that happensor the cycle is going to continue.”