The foreclosure crisis, along with the general state of the economy, has had far-reaching effects on many, including but not limited to schoolchildren returning to school. Sadly, as a result, many children are returning to school this year as homeless.
Hard Times Hitting Students and Schools
Tyler Bissmeyer for The New York Times
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With mortgage foreclosures throwing hundreds of families out of their homes here each month, dismayed school officials say they are feeling the upheaval: record numbers of students turning up for classes this fall are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free meals.
“We’re seeing a lot more children in poverty,” said Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County school system, a 98,000-student district that includes Louisville and its suburbs.
At the same time, the district is struggling with its own financial problems. Responding to a cut of $43 million by the state in education spending and to higher energy and other costs, school officials in Jefferson County have raised lunch prices, eliminated 17 buses by reorganizing routes, ordered drivers to turn off vehicles rather than letting them idle and increased property taxes.
The Jefferson County system is typical this school year.
As 50 million children return to classes across the nation, crippling increases in the price of fuel and food, coupled with the economic downturn, have left schools from California to Florida to Maine cutting costs. Some are trimming bus service, others are restricting travel, and a few are shortening the school week. And as many districts are forced to cut back, the number of poor and homeless students is rising.
“The big national picture is that food and fuel costs are going up and school revenues are not,” said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “We’re in a recession, and it’s having a dramatic impact on schools.”
Louisville’s pain is minor compared with the woes of some cities. Detroit has laid off at least 700 teachers, Los Angeles 500 administrators and Miami-Dade County hundreds of school psychologists, maintenance workers and custodians.
Schools in many states have cut bus stops to save diesel. Districts in California and Ohio have gone further and eliminated bus service either completely or for high schools, leaving thousands of students to find their own way to school.
In Maine, officials worried about the cost of heating their classrooms this winter have restricted travel for field trips to save money. Districts in Louisiana, Minnesota and elsewhere have taken a more radical measure and adopted four-day school weeks. Hundreds of districts, responding to higher food prices, are charging more for cafeteria meals.
In interviews, educators in many states said they were seeing more needy families than at any time in memory. Two charities in suburban Detroit announced in August that they would hand out student backpacks, attracting hundreds of families.
“They went through all 300 backpacks in three hours, boom, and that was that,” said Kathleen M. Kropf, an official in the Macomb Intermediate School District. “We’re seeing a lot of desperate people.”
There were no giveaways for Jacci Murray, 28, a single mother in West Palm Beach, Fla., who said she lost her job six months ago. Ms. Murray bought pencils and crayons for her son, Cameron, who is in the second grade, from a discount bin at Office Depot. Saying she felt “cheap and broke,” she pored fretfully over her school supplies list, afraid to waste gas by making more than one shopping trip.
“It’s been tough this year,” Ms. Murray said. “I’m depressed about school.”
And so are many educators.
West Virginia officials issued a memorandum recently to local districts titled “Tips to Deal With the Skyrocketing Cost of Fuel.” Last week, David Pauley, the transportation supervisor for the Kanawha County school system, based in Charleston, met with drivers of the district’s 196 buses to outline those policies. Mr. Pauley told them to stay 5 miles per hour below the limit, to check the tire pressure every day and to avoid jackrabbit starts.
The Caldwell Parish School District, in northern Louisiana, took a more sweeping approach to saving fuel by eliminating Monday classes. The district joined about 100 systems nationwide, most of them rural, that in recent years have adopted a four-day schedule.
The district’s superintendent, John Sartin, said the move should save $145,000 in a $15 million budget. The decision, made in June, came after crude oil prices had risen for 29 consecutive days, Mr. Sartin said.
“People here worry that they won’t have enough money to last through the month,” he said.
Similar concerns in the Southern Aroostook Community School District in Maine have delayed adoption of the budget.
“We’ve tried to pass it twice, and we’re trying a third,” said Terry Comeau, the superintendent, who has restricted field trips and taken a bus off the road.
Tom Collins contributed reporting from Florida, Joel Elliott from Maine and Sean D. Hamill from Pennsylvania.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 2, 2008
An article on Monday about the financial problems that many schools are having at the same time that some of their students’ families are struggling economically omitted the names of three contributing reporters. Tom Collins reported from Florida, Joel Elliott from Maine and Sean D. Hamill from Pennsylvania.