SchoolHouse Connection highlighted the critical significance of funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program in the Committee for Education Funding’s FY 2024 education budget book. You can access the comprehensive resource on CEF’s budget book webpage, which includes informative charts, videos, and a briefing video. The complete book will also be made available to the public on that page in the near future.
Background: CEF’s Fiscal Year Budget Analysis is the most comprehensive source available on how vital federal education programs improve the lives of millions of Americans. The Budget Analysis is a useful source for information on federal education programs, but there are resources even more valuable: the authors and contacts listed within, who invite you to find out more about the programs described here and the lives of the people these programs touch.
Education for Homeless Children and Youth
Title VII-B, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
Emily Smith and her three children were living in Texas when COVID hit. After losing her job and being evicted, Emily moved the family to Lake Charles, LA, to stay with extended family in an overcrowded apartment. When Hurricane Laura hit Lake Charles, the family was forced to move again to Houma. Then Hurricane Ida struck Houma, and Emily and her children drove to Lafayette and began sleeping in their car. When she finally sought emergency shelter, the Lafayette Parish Schools Homeless Education Program learned the children had only attended school for a total of six weeks out of the past three school years. Constant moving disrupted their education, as did Emily’s fear the children might contract COVID at school, leaving them vulnerable to being barred from wherever they might be staying.
The children finally entered Lafayette schools in the 2022-23 school year and are recovering from the multitude of losses and trauma they experienced. The schools created educational plans for extra support in English Language Arts and Math. Their progress was monitored regularly and adjustments made to interventions to close gaps as quickly as possible. The EHCY program helped Emily access short-term emergency food assistance until the family was approved for SNAP benefits, and social workers created short- and long-term plans to address mental health needs. EHCY also helped secure emergency housing, with community donations for utility deposits. The EHCY program obtained vouchers to purchase clothing and a referral for a variety of medical services. Wraparound supports, focused on identifying students experiencing homelessness and removing barriers, are the hallmark of the EHCY program.
The Smith children’s experiences are not unique. Lafayette schools have identified and supported more than 1,000 homeless students in the 2022-23 school year to date. Many have large educational gaps due to homelessness, struggling to attend school and confronting barriers to academic success stemming from trauma, lack of basic needs, and health challenges. Nearly 17 percent also have an identified disability. The Lafayette Parish EHCY program, headed by school district homeless liaison Amy Fontenot, works to remove every possible barrier to identification, enrollment, attendance, and success. Most recently, LA school districts got American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funding, increasing districts receiving dedicated funding for homeless students from 8 percent under regular annual funding to 96 percent.
In School Year (SY) 2020-21, public schools identified approximately 2.2 percent of all K-12 students, or 1.1 million students nationwide, as homeless. The Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program, the education subtitle of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, is the only federal education program focused on removing barriers caused by homelessness, such as inability to meet enrollment requirements; high mobility resulting in lack of continuity and absenteeism; lack of transportation and supplies; health-related concerns; and emotional and mental health issues. Homelessness has a greater negative impact on academic achievement than poverty: the 2019-20 national average graduation rate for homeless students was 68.2 percent, 13 points below other low-income students and nearly 18 points below all students.
Under EHCY, school districts designate a liaison to help identify children experiencing homelessness, ensure school access and stability, provide direct services, and coordinate with community agencies to meet basic needs. Subgrants support outreach and identification, enrollment assistance, transportation, school records transfer, immunization referrals, tutoring, counseling, school supplies, professional development for educators and community organizations, housing and service navigators, early childhood support, and assistance transitioning to postsecondary education.
The pandemic saw students experiencing homelessness become more disconnected from schools. Total public school enrollment decreased by 3 percent during SY 2020-21, but by 14 percent for students experiencing homelessness. Chronic absence for these students is more than double that of all students (41.9 percent compared to 20.3 percent), even greater during COVID. Students face multiple learning challenges and are disproportionately students with disabilities (20 percent of homeless students versus 15 percent of all students overall) and English learners (18 percent of all homeless students compared to 10 percent overall).
When children experiencing homelessness are not identified, they miss out on other educational protections and services that can stabilize their education and their lives. Underidentification is generally much higher in schools without dedicated homeless education funding. One-quarter of school districts nationwide (4,930) reported no students experiencing homelessness among the 300,599 students they enrolled, highly suggestive of underidentification and/or underreporting. Ninety-two percent of these districts received no dedicated homeless education funding, with 42 percent of students identified as homeless (471,134 students) in districts in SY 2020-21 without dedicated EHCY funding.
There are some encouraging trends. Districts receiving dedicated homeless education funding more than doubled as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act—$800 million specified for programs for children experiencing homelessness (ARP-HCY). Under current annual funding for the EHCY program, less than one in five districts received a subgrant. Based on early data, as a result of ARP-HCY, this proportion has increased to over 53 percent, providing dedicated funding to respond to student homelessness as long as this funding lasts.
Funding History (in millions)
|FY 2024 President’s Budget
Impact of President’s Budget
Despite surging housing, mental health, and addiction crises, the president’s FY 2024 budget freezes funding for the EHCY program. Without additional funding, more than 80 percent of school districts will still lack support to identify and assist children experiencing homelessness, leaving many of this vulnerable student population without basic access to education. Without this access, students also cannot benefit from other federal, state, or local education programs, leaving them without a real opportunity to thrive. Failure to prioritize these children jeopardizes the nation’s recovery and continues to push those furthest from opportunity from the support they need to graduate from high school, transition to career or college, and live healthy lives.
An appropriation of $800 million— the ARP-HCY amount— is less than 2 percent of the total federal K-12 education budget, yet would sustain that current level of support provided to students experiencing homelessness. That funding level also would allow EHCY subgrants to reach at least half of all school districts nationwide. Ensuring access to EHCY support is an important part of creating a school system that meets the needs of all our nation’s children and youth.