Seen and Served: How Dedicated Federal Funding Supports the Identification of Students Experiencing Homelessness

This analysis examines preK-12 federal education data from the 2020-2021 school year, identifying patterns associated with the under-identification and inadequate support of children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Read the Report

In the 2020-21 school year, more than 25 million children and youth – roughly half of all elementary and secondary students in the United States – attended schools in school districts that lacked dedicated funding to identify and support students experiencing homelessness. This significant funding gap increases the likelihood that many children and youth experiencing homelessness will not be identified, and even in cases where they are identified, that they will not receive the educational protections and services that can stabilize their education and their lives. Ensuring access to these supports is an important part of creating a school system that meets the needs of all our nation’s children and youth.

SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan analyzed publicly-available preK-12 federal education data for the 2020-2021 school year to examine patterns that are correlated with under-identifying and inadequately supporting children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Key findings include:

The Likelihood Of Under-Identification Is Much Higher In Schools Without Dedicated Homeless Education Funding.

When children and youth experiencing homelessness are not identified by public schools, they miss out on critical educational protections and services that can stabilize their education and their lives. Inadequate dedicated homeless education funding through the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program contributes to under-identification.Our analysis of federal education data builds on other analyses (including CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey data and a recent Center for Public Integrity investigation), and shows a strong correlation between lack of dedicated homeless education funding and under-identification of students experiencing homelessness.

Rural Areas Enroll A Disproportionate Share Of Children And Youth Experiencing Homelessness, But Have The Largest Share Of School Districts Without Dedicated Homeless Education Funding.

Charter Schools Are Over-Represented Among School Districts Reporting No Children And Youth Experiencing Homelessness.

In Addition To Under-Identification Challenges, Many Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Attend Schools That Receive No Dedicated Support To Meet Their Unique Needs.

The Number of Local Educational Agencies Receiving Dedicated Homeless Education Funding More Than Doubled as a Result of a Bipartisan Amendment to the American Rescue Plan Act.

Policy Considerations & Recommendations

The McKinney-Vento Act’s EHCY program is the only federal education program charged with removing barriers to school identification, enrollment, attendance, and success caused by homelessness. No other federal program has the responsibility for and expertise in finding, engaging, and stabilizing these students. Local school district homeless liaisons help identify homeless children and youth, ensure school access and stability, provide direct services, and coordinate with community agencies to meet basic needs. 

The EHCY program also has a long history of bipartisan support: it has received varying levels of funding increases regardless of which party controlled one or both chambers of Congress. The amendment to the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 that dedicated $800 million to the identification and support of children and youth experiencing homelessness was bipartisan, supported by four Republicans and two Democrats. Nevertheless, the EHCY program also has suffered from being extremely small relative to the need, and it is not as well known or understood as larger federal education programs. Yet without the protections of the McKinney-Vento Act, some of our nation’s most vulnerable students would not have the most basic access to education. Without such access, these students cannot benefit from any of the other federal, state, or local education investments – leaving them without a true opportunity to thrive. 

To increase dedicated support for students experiencing homelessness across all school districts, we recommend: