2020 brought opportunities for reflection and reset as our nation grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and a tense presidential election cycle. In the midst of these challenges, SchoolHouse Connection’s state policy team testified before interim committees and celebrated the passage of four new policies helping over 50,000 children and youth experiencing homelessness in two states.
SHC’s state policy team is building on our 2020 successes with 2021 legislative advocacy campaigns in California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Texas. Together with local teams and young people, we are focusing on minor consent and access to services, success in higher education, high school graduation, and employment.
Below is a summary of our activities and progress to date.
Minor Consent and Access to Services:
- In Kentucky, we are advocating for passage of a bill allowing unaccompanied minors to access mental health services. This bill was the top priority for the young people we partnered with in the state. The bill passed both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the full Senate unanimously. It now moves to the house. The state policy team is optimistic that the bill will advance and recognize the leadership of the Children’s Alliance and the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky.
- In North Dakota and Nevada, we are focused on access to medical care, including behavioral health care. Our North Dakota bill to allow minors to consent for health services passed the state Senate on January 29. These issues are especially critical in the midst of a pandemic.
- In Montana, we are advocating for legislation that will allow unaccompanied minors to consent to housing and emergency shelter services. In January, Montana’s SB 17 regarding unaccompanied minors’ ability to sign a lease and contract for other housing passed the full Senate unanimously.
K-12 and Postsecondary Education Access and Success:
We also are striving to boost high school graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness, in line with our national Education Leads Home campaign. Lack of a high school degree is the greatest single risk factor for young adult homelessness. At the same time, post-secondary education continues to protect against economic insecurity. Even during the pandemic, community college graduates continue to earn 15 percent more than those with only a high school diploma.
In light of such clear evidence of the importance of education in overcoming homelessness, we are advocating for education legislation in Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
- In Nevada and New Mexico, for example, our team is focused on legislative school discipline reform.
- In Maine, we are picking back up on our pre-COVID legislative goal of passing a bill that would support students who experience educational disruptions, including those experiencing homelessness, in graduating from high school. We’re working on a similar bill in Montana, where our legislation passed the Senate unanimously on January 29.
- In California, we are advocating for amendments to state law that would allow greater support and protections for highly mobile high school students, including students experiencing homelessness and those in adult education. We’re proud to co-sponsor that bill with the National Center for Youth Law and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. In Maryland (following the lead of the Homeless Persons Representation Project) and Texas, our advocacy is focusing on higher education, including efforts to expand higher education liaisons for students experiencing homelessness, tuition and fee waivers, and priority for on-campus housing.
Finally, we are working on several pieces of legislation to help young people experiencing homelessness find jobs. Some of these bills are related to access to vital documents needed to apply for work, such as driver’s licenses in New Jersey, birth certificates in Nevada and North Dakota, and IDs in New Mexico. We’re also incentivizing employers to hire youth experiencing homelessness by advocating for a new tax credit in New Mexico.
All of these efforts are complemented by SHC’s state policy team’s implementation support of legislation that passed in previous years in California, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, and Tennessee, as well as laying the groundwork for legislative advocacy campaigns in 2022.