By Hannah Torregoza
Reelectionist Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay has vowed to push for the passage of a bill granting homeless children improved access to education.
Binay, who is running for another Senate term in the upcoming May 13, 2019 midterm elections, said that once enacted into law, homeless children and youth may soon be given an opportunity to go to school regardless of their previous school records.
“Education is a fundamental human right of every Filipino, especially for the helpless and homeless children and youth,” said Binay, in the explanatory note of Senate Bill No. 2028 or the proposed “Educational Success for Homeless Children and Youth.”
“It is imperative that the government improve the accessibility of preschool, primary and secondary education for homeless children and youth,” Binay stressed.
The bill, also known as an Act to Improve Access to Preschool, Primary, and Secondary Education of Homeless Children, seeks to authorize the Department of Education (DepEd) to provide funds to the local government units (LGUs) for the education of homeless children and youth.
Binay noted that the education of homeless children and youth are often neglected because they either lack a fixed or adequate residence, live in emergency or transitional shelters, share house with other persons due to loss of housing and economic hardships, abandoned in hospitals or await foster care placement.
Children and youth who live in cars, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, train stations or similar settings should be given access to education so they can uplift their lives.
Under the bill, the DepEd Secretary shall grant funds to eligible LGUs for the improvement of the identification of homeless children and youth and to enable them to enroll in, attend, and succeed in school, including early care and education programs, particularly in prekindergarten and preschool programs.
The bill also calls for the establishment or designation of an Office of the Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
The proposed law also provides for funds to be used to improve comprehensive education and related support services to homeless children and youth and their families and to minimize education disruption.
The bill also provides for adequate funding for coordinative activities and collaboration with educators, special education personnel, child development and preschool program personnel.
According to Binay, the measure mandates immediate enrollment of a homeless child or youth in all public elementary and secondary school even if he or she is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, including previous academic records, records of immunization and health screenings and other health records, proof of residency or guardianship or other documentation, has unpaid fines or fees from prior schools or is unable to pay fees in the school selected.
Binay said the enrolling school shall also immediately contact the school last attended by the child or youth to obtain relevant academic and other records.
The bill requires confidentiality of information about the homeless child’s or youth’s living situation. Binay said these shall only be treated as a student education record, and shall not be released to employers, law enforcement personnel or other persons or agencies not authorized to have such information under laws and administrative issuances.
She also said LGUs, under the bill, shall identify and prioritize homeless children for enrollment and increase their enrollment and attendance in early care and educational programs.
Among the responsibilities to be given to LGUs also include reserving spaces in preschool programs for homeless children, conducting targeted outreach to homeless children and their families, waiving application deadlines, providing ongoing professional development for staff regarding the need of homeless children and their families and formulating strategies to serve the children and their families, she said.