On Monday, June 13 a group of advocates and organizations led by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) hosted a forum to discuss the challenges of homeless students in America’s public schools.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Education Act there is a small amount of money in the federal budget designated to provide some support for homeless children as they attend school. It provides some funds for liaison who monitor and support children and youth while they attend school. That program is currently funded at $70 million with the President asking for $85 million in FY 2017 and the Senate currently offering $77.
The most compelling part of the briefing every year is the comments and the reflections of students who have successfully navigated through high school despite living in families that are mobile and homeless. This year’s briefing included presentations and commentary by 11 young people from across the country who discussed their experiences as they dealt with their own homeless status while pursuing their education.
Some of the common reflections by the students included their fear of revealing their status while in school and their fear of being kicked out of school if their status as a homeless child was discovered. Several of the panelists talked about their fear of foster care if child protection services were notified of their circumstances. Not bringing CPS in was an incentive to remain quiet about their status.
Many of the students also reflected on their inability to openly talk to other people including fellow students because their status as a homeless student might affect how others including teachers would look at them and the kind of treatment they would experience. Other students talked about the middle school years with one student talking about how she had missed half of her school days and really wasn’t noticed. Despite that disadvantage she passed her classes with “A’s.” Another student recounted her experiences of being forced to go to a truancy program and how fortunate she was that her mother was able to make. If her mother, struggling with her own challenges, had failed to show up, she would’ve been denied access to school despite her abilities.
Panelist also included to McKinney Vento homeless education liaisons. Larissa Parrott-Dickinson talked about her experiences as a liaison in Mobile, Alabama. In that school district of 59,000 students, 5,800 are homeless and there are three liaisons to cover 89 school sites.
As part of the briefing a new report was released providing key statistics. The report noted that in the 2013–14 school year there were 1.3 million homeless students across United States. That represents a 7% increase from the previous year and double the number from 2006–2007. Of the key findings:
- 78% of young people surveyed say homelessness was something they experienced more than once.
- 47% say they were homeless both with a parent or a guardian and also homeless alone.
- 50% of the students interviewed slept in a car or a park abandoned building bus station or other public place.
- Reflecting on some of the comments made during the panels, 67% said they were uncomfortable talking with people at school about their home and housing situation and the challenges.
New amendments to the McKinney Vento act included in the recent re-authorization of the ESEA require that for the first time school districts and states will have to report the graduation rates for homeless youth beginning in the 2016–17 school year. According to the report only five states, Colorado, Kansas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming report high school graduation rates. In all five states the graduation rates lag behind graduation rates for all students including low income children.