The Waltham Public School District has spent more than $200,000 educating and transporting homeless children, something the state auditor says is an unfunded mandate the state should be paying.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump issued the finding in a Dec. 12 report, after State Rep. Thomas Stanley, D-Waltham, requested her office investigate the matter, according to a press release from Bump’s office.
The costs stem from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's voluntary participation in a federal program known as McKinney-Vento, which allows homeless parents to enroll their children in any school district across the state.
Over the past two school years, the Waltham district has paid $219,189 in education transportation costs for homeless children, according to Bump’s office. The state pays for the families' housing costs, according to the report, but Waltham pays for their children's education and education-related transportation costs, despite the state voluntarily joining the federal program.
The auditor, however, was not questioning the program itself.
“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 in a statement.
According to the report, the state Department of Housing and Community Development places the children and families in two Waltham hotels, the Home Suites Inn on Totten Pond Road and Homestead Studio Suites on Fourth Avenue, according to the report.
Specifically, 94 families (including 73 children) are living in the two facilities, according to the report. That figure does not include statistics for other temporary housing in Waltham.
As of October, 97 school homeless school children, including several from other communities, are attending Waltham Public Schools, according to the report. Most of them attend the elementary schools.
Twenty-five of the children housed in Waltham are being transported to Boston, Brockton, Plympton, Newton, Malden and Milton, for school each day, according to the report.
Despite having less than 1 percent of the state’s total population, Waltham houses at least 12 percent of the state’s homeless population.
“Waltham has been bearing a disproportionate amount of the costs of educating homeless children, far greater than other communities. The city and school system have been very accommodating, and it’s not an easy task,” Stanley said in a statement.
The costs could hurt students, the Auditor said.
“The costs incurred have the potential of forcing schools to cut teachers, enlarge class sizes, and make other expenditures in tight budget conditions. I have concluded this is an unfunded mandate with continuing cost implications,’ Bump said in a statement.
As a result of the report, Bump is recommending the state legislature appropriate adequate funding for the program, according to her office. Stanley intends to file a bill that would seek greater funding to cover the costs.
While not directly related to the issue, the report reveals the Waltham Public Schools have welcomed the children with open arms. A clothing drive is being held to benefit the students and they have been invited to participate in summer programs, according to the report.
Waltham Public School’s Superintendent Susan Nicholson could not be reached for comment on this story.