Newsletter (February 21, 2024)

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Overlooked and Almost Out of Time: Pandemic-Era Funds for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Today, SchoolHouse Connection released “Overlooked and Almost Out of Time,” a report showing the impact and reach of American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds, as well as the challenges that are preventing schools from using these funds at a time of heightened need.

The report is based on a survey of more than 1,400 school district homeless liaisons from across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as on analyses of federal data.

Key findings include:

  • Child and youth homelessness has increased since the pandemic, creating a greater need for targeted support for students experiencing homelessness.
  • The number of school districts receiving dedicated funding to support students experiencing homelessness has more than doubled as a result of ARP-HCY funding, reaching over half of all school districts nationwide.
  • School district homeless liaisons report many positive impacts of ARP-HCY funds, including increased school stability, identification, and attendance. Liaisons that reported they received ARP-HCY funds were nearly twice as likely to report an increase in student homelessness due in part to better outreach and more staffing capacity.

Still, despite these positive impacts, the survey also found:

  • One quarter of school district homeless liaisons express concerns about meeting spending deadlines due to administrative hurdles and limited time. An additional 25% of liaisons were unaware they received ARP-HCY funds, potentially making it difficult to meet spending deadlines.
  • Even though liaisons are legally responsible for identifying and supporting students experiencing homelessness, they are often excluded from key decisions about use of funding.
  • Educational agencies have prioritized spending the $122 billion in ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds at the expense of a focus on ARP-HCY dollars. SchoolHouse Connection’s analysis shows that states have spent ARP ESSER nearly 50% faster than ARP-HCY funds, despite the fact that ARP-HCY funds are less than 1% of ARP ESSER funds.
  • Many school district homeless liaisons are unsure if or how they will sustain services or programming funded by ARP-HCY; the majority will look to some form of limited federal funding to continue to support students experiencing homelessness.

“The ability to provide a store card for groceries has been a life-saver for our families. I can hardly believe I won that fight with finance, but persistence paid off, literally. Transportation by use of special education buses for school of origin is currently non-existent due to logistics and the fact that our special education buses are already at capacity… ARP-HCY funds have afforded taxi use when city bus passes won’t work for young children or families with similar working hours. These funds have made all the difference in the world to these vulnerable students.”
– Alaska

 “Increased family engagement as the ability to provide store cards has helped increase communication and contact with struggling parents.”
– New York

 “Now that there is a better understanding of how ARP-HCY funds can be used and we have developed a stronger collaborative system with outside agencies, extending the time allotted for spending these funds would be beneficial. This would enable us to intentionally provide needed assistance to our families, without duplication.”
– West Virginia

“I am burdened at what & who will fall through the cracks without continued funding.”
North Carolina 

“Knowing early that we had an extension would keep us from rushing to spend on items that may not actually be top priority. Let me give an example. We are doing hotel vouchers. If we knew we had one more year, we would not rush to spend funds on ‘items’ just to expend the funds. We would hold on to what we need to ensure we can keep this bridge service in place.”
– Arizona

“A long term funding source, beyond the Title I Set Aside, is necessary. We need funding to come to schools, not to local non-profits who have limited staff to process applications in a timely fashion. Empower school districts and provide us the funding since we work directly with homeless families. We can do the work more efficiently if we have the funds and permission to spend them accordingly.”
– Oregon

“My hands are tied in every way…so much red-tape. An endless amount of hoops to try and jump through to try and access funds.”  
– Anonymous

“I am not sure how funds are used because whenever the building liaisons request assistance for things like glasses, cab transportation, clothing, etc., we are advised that we need to exhaust ALL community resources before we can help families. There is not enough time in the day to call community partners for every family in need. Sometimes it is a reasonable ask, but often we are out of luck. I have yet to make any purchases for families this school year. I feel like we are creating more barriers for families.”
– New Hampshire

The report urges Congress to extend the obligation deadline for ARP-HCY funds for one additional school year, to ensure that all ARP-HCY funds are used strategically to support increasing numbers of students experiencing homelessness. It includes additional recommendations for Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state and local education leaders, and state legislatures.

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