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Affluent North Texas school districts grapple with a growing problem: a rise in homeless students

a blue teddy bear sits on the ground next to a dirty blue fleece blanket
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Several North Texas school districts say they've identified more students experiencing homelessness — including Plano ISD.

North Texas school districts are seeing an increase in students experiencing homelessness — even in affluent communities like Plano.

Students experiencing homelessness — or what James Thomas from Plano ISD calls “living in transition”— are eligible for services at school under the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The federal law aims to increase these students’ access to education.

Thomas is the community services coordinator for Plano ISD. He said the district identified 1,365 students living in transition the past school year, up from 1,001 the previous year. But he suspects there are more students whose families are in need who haven’t been identified.

“By large, most of them don't want to be identified because they fear the CPS [Child Protective Services] may intervene to take their kids,” he said. “So they don't want you to know they're homeless.”

Thomas said finding these students helps the district provide them with services. Plano ISD provides McKinney Vento students with free breakfast, lunch and transportation to and from school. The district also has The Caring Place at its welcome enrollment center on the east side of Plano, where students and their families can get food, clothes and other supplies.

Plano ISD is building a second welcome center with services for McKinney Vento students in West Plano, which is known for being more affluent than East Plano. Shanette Eaden, the housing and community services manager for the city of Plano, said wealthier communities aren’t immune from the affordable housing crisis.

“We need housing that is affordable to various income ranges, not just low income, but to those higher incomes as well,” Eaden said.

Ashley Marshall, the homeless liaison for Dallas ISD, said the lack of affordable housing is an issue in her district, where many apartment buildings are being replaced with expensive townhomes.

“We're pushing them out to live in a different situation,” Marshall said.

Marshall said Dallas ISD identified 4,700 students experiencing homelessness the past school year, an increase from the previous year. But she said the district lost $100,000 in state funding for homeless students.

Brenda Lacroix from Carrollton Farmers Branch ISD also said her district needs more funds to serve it’s growing population of unhoused students.

“The needs are just so broad, and the funding pool is so shallow,” LaCroix said. “It's difficult to do what we need to do in order to truly support them.”

The basic allotment, which is the amount of funding the state provides per student, hasn’t gone up since 2019. There was a bill in the Texas House during the last legislative session that would’ve raised the basic allotment. But it didn’t move forward after the House passed amendment to remove school voucher funding from the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he would veto any education funding legislation that didn’t include money for what he refers to as ‘school choice.’

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.