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THOUGHT LEADER


What the Latest Federal Research On Homeless Students Means


Written by Barbara Duffield I


n January, the National Center for Homeless Education released federal education data revealing that public schools identified 1.5 million children and youth experiencing homelessness in the


2017-2018 school year, an 11-percent increase over the previous school year and the highest number ever recorded nationally. While the report does not provide an explanation for the increasing numbers, many regions of the country have been impacted by conditions that contribute to homelessness, such as lack of affordable housing, opioid or methamphetamine addiction, and natural disasters. In addition, some school districts have increased efforts to identify children and youth experiencing homelessness, which may account for some of the higher numbers. Under federal early care, child nutrition and educa-


tion law, children and youth are considered homeless if they are staying in shelters, cars, motels, or with other people temporarily due to lack of alternatives. Students experiencing homelessness move frequently between living situations in the course of a school year. However, schools keep data only on where students are located when they are first identified as homeless. According to the 2017-2018 school year data: • The number of unsheltered homeless students (cars, parks, streets, etc.) more than doubled be- tween 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, an increase of 104 percent.


• The number of homeless students staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing decreased by 2 percent.


• The number of homeless students staying in motels increased by 17 percent.


• The number of students staying with other people temporarily due to lack of alternatives increased by 9 percent.


The federal data report also highlights the significant


barriers to academic success faced by students experi- encing homelessness. Graduation and proficiency rates for homeless students are significantly lower than other economically disadvantaged students, demonstrat- ing the negative impact of homelessness on academic achievement over and above poverty. For example: • Four-year, on-time state graduation rates for homeless students ranged from 44 percent to 87


50 School Transportation News • APRIL 2020


percent, while five-year, on-time state graduation rates ranged from 41 percent to 83 percent.


• Approximately 29 percent of students experienc- ing homelessness achieved academic proficiency in reading (language arts), 24 percent achieved proficiency in mathematics and 26 percent achieved proficiency in science.


Research shows that not completing high school is the


greatest single risk factor for experiencing homelessness as a young person, making education a critical intervention.


Implications for School Transportation For most children and youth experiencing homeless- ness, public schools are their best and often only source of support, offering access to basic needs such as food and clothing as well as supportive adults and the educa- tion that can change the trajectory of their lives. Yet homelessness creates numerous barriers to aca-


demic success, including high rates of mobility that can lead to disruptive school transfers and cause children and youth to fall further and further behind. Trans- portation is an essential service, making it possible for homeless students to attend school regularly, experience normalcy, and find their footing in an otherwise trau- matic and chaotic time in their lives. Congress recognized the importance of transporta-


tion in stabilizing the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness by enacting strong fed- eral protections in the McKinney-Vento Act. It allows homeless students to stay in their “school of origin” (the school they had been attending when last permanently housed, or the school in which they were last enrolled), if it is determined to be in their best interest. Best interest determinations must be individualized and based on factors related to the child or youth’s education. Once it has been determined to be in the child’s or


youth’s best interest to continue his or her education in their school of origin, transportation must be provided. ESSA also requires agreements between local education- al agencies and child welfare agencies on how children in foster care will be transported, when it is in their best interest to stay in their school of origin. While the mandate to provide children and youth


experiencing homelessness with transportation to the school of origin has been in place for nearly two


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