Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Forget Me Not: Reminder To Illinois Legislators Not to Forget Homeless Children

Good News: 
Strong Homeless Students’ Educational Rights.
Bad News: 
Record Number of Homeless Students and Scant Resources.

The official parchment scroll proclaims May 2014 as Homeless Students’ Educational Rights Month, signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Advocates and supporters will gather on May 8 in Aurora to commemorate the 20th anniversary of hallmark civil rights legislation, the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, and urge restoration of $3 million of state funds to help homeless kids.

Twenty years ago, Illinois legislators established strong educational rights for homeless students, passing Charlie’s Bill, named for Pat Van Doren’s image of a captivating 4-year-old boy that adorned every piece of literature promoting the bill. The law removed barriers commonly experienced by homeless students and guided schools to help the students succeed. In 2001, federal legislation based on the Illinois law passed, ensuring access to school for homeless students nationwide.

Advocates will utilize momentum from this 20th anniversary commemoration to push for more resources to help homeless students. Illinois lawmakers removed $3 million to help homeless families and youth from the budget following the 2008-09 school year.  
Since then, schools have identified almost 55,000 students without homes, more than double the census in 2009.
“It doesn’t do any good to have a proclamation if we don’t have the resources to back it up,” declared Diane Nilan, founder and president of HEAR US, a Naperville-based national nonprofit advocacy organization. Nilan ran the shelter at Hesed House in Aurora and was part of the effort to pass the state and federal legislation to remove barriers for homeless students. HEAR US is the sponsor of the May 8 event featuring Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is spearheading the campaign to restore the $3 million. They point to the “109% increase in identified homeless students statewide since 2008-09 when $3 million in homeless education funding was last included in the state budget.” Funding will help ensure immediate enrollment of homeless students, reduce truancy, provide academic support, including transportation, and augment local services to help students and their families.

Nilan has worked with the Law Project for decades. She created the Forget Me Not campaign to restore the $3 million. HEAR US will recognize the Law Project at the May 8 event, which features a performance by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. They will invite the audience to contact their lawmakers and urge restoration of the funding.

The May 8 event is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $10 for the 6:30 reception and concert at Copley Theater, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. More information available at www.hearus.us.

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