Ensuring homeless students have access to education

Amid COVID-19, district administrators should consider statutory funding uses and reprioritizing homeless education spending.
By: | August 10, 2020
Photo by Chase @jiggliemon Wilson on UnsplashPhoto by Chase @jiggliemon Wilson on Unsplash

As the effects of the economic downturn manifest, schools may anticipate increased need for services and supports for families newly experiencing homelessness amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. In schools phasing in varied instructional models—from wholly in-person to entirely virtual—where budgets are lean may mean reprioritizing resources for homeless education.

SchoolHouse Connection Executive Director Barbara Duffield says ensuring newly homeless children and youths have access to education will require increased school-based efforts to locate them, communicate with them and support them in accordance with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

Local homeless education liaisons may decide to delay federal spending in one area and increase local resources in another, depending on circumstances surrounding their district’s response to the ongoing pandemic. Duffield said, for example, “where there is uncertainty about the approach a school district will take this fall, it makes the most sense to simply wait to see what the actual needs will be.”

As liaisons assess their program needs and plan for SY 2020-21 expenditures, reviewing allowable costs under federal programs may be a helpful strategy toward pinpointing areas that can be funded sooner than others. Two main sources for homeless education funding are reserved under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, and granted under McKinney-Vento.

ESSA requires that districts reserve Title I, Part A funds sufficient to provide services to homeless students at non-Title I schools comparable to those at Title I schools (Section 1113(c)(3)(A)). These funds may be used to provide services to homeless students in Title I schools that are not ordinarily provided to other Title I students. Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Non-Regulatory Guidance, 119 LRP 22555 (EDU 08/27/18), Question M-5 et seq.

Title I, Part A set-aside funding may be used in providing various necessities and services, where appropriate, such as food or medical and dental services. Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Non-Regulatory Guidance, 119 LRP 22555 (EDU 08/27/18), Question M-4.

McKinney-Vento, as amended by ESSA, provides that—to the extent practicable—districts must provide homeless education services through existing programs and mechanisms that integrate homeless and non-homeless children and youths (Section 723(a)(2)(A)(ii)).

McKinney-Vento subgrants may be used to support eligible students with more immediate needs like tutoring or emergency services (Section 723(d)(1)) and Section 723(d)(16)). Traditional school supplies (Section 723(d)(15)) may not rank as high on the priority list if schools anticipate weeks or more of remote learning before returning to in-person instruction.

Duffield says program needs would be determined not only by the model, but also by the specific needs of families and youths who are homeless in the COVID-19 context.

“This might mean, for example, more purchases related to hygiene, [personal protective equipment], or items needed for remote instruction,” says Duffield. “Regardless of the model chosen by the school, one absolutely essential item will be appropriate staffing for McKinney-Vento—perhaps increasing the [full-time equivalent] of the liaison position, employing more school social workers or other professionals who can spend the time to do outreach, identification, tracking, communication and mental health supports, as well as case management.”

Johnny Jackson covers homeless and at-risk students and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publication. Documents mentioned above are available to subscribers.