Dive Brief:

  • A national survey of 1,444 McKinney-Vento education liaisons in 49 states shows a 28% drop in the identification of homeless students compared to fall 2019, amounting to an estimated 420,000 fewer children identified at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
  • SchoolHouse Connection, the nonprofit organization that conducted the survey, said up to 1.4 million homeless students remain unidentified and without school supports.
  • In a separate 50-state survey  39 of which responded  a majority said they didn’t direct funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for homeless students and have indicated they will not be tracking whether or how districts are using CARES funding to support this population.

Dive Insight:

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act requires districts to appoint a homeless education liaison and ensure homeless students have the same access to a free, appropriate public education as other learners, which includes identifying, enrolling and providing transportation for homeless students.

Michelle Swisher, a homeless liaison for Spotsylvania County Public Schools in Virginia, said it’s become more difficult to identify students during the pandemic because many schools remain in remote learning to some extent. Homeless students are usually identified when they need transportation to school, she said, and McKinney-Vento parents may be purposely opting to remain remote for this reason even with in-person classes on the table. 

When schools reopen fully in person, and eviction moratoriums lift, Swisher expects an “influx” of children who are homeless.

“If [homeless students are] not a priority within a district or school board, then we don’t see it reflected in the planning,” Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, said. She said she believes many liaisons concerns for homeless students are being sidelined as states and districts make funding decisions and prioritize other areas during the pandemic. 

Swisher said Spotsylvania County Public Schools has focused on meeting all students’ needs during the pandemic, including homeless ones. For example, the district delivered meals in the early weeks of closures to hotels where students and their families were staying. During hybrid learning, it is offering some homeless students up to four days of in-person instruction.

“We’ve had principals go out to our hotels … and go over hotspots and how to set them up,” Swisher said. “I think that’s from the top-down directive,” she added, saying she thinks her superintendent set the tone for school administrators to prioritize homeless students.

She suggests educating the public about the hardships of homeless students, which the SchoolHouse Connection report said includes a lack of:

  • Internet.
  • Shelter/housing.
  • Food.
  • Child care.
  • Healthcare.
  • Good mental health access.
  • Transportation.

“I have heard more from some of our community donors in the past few months because they want to know what is being done and they’re interested in helping [financially],” Swisher said, adding donations have been helpful in getting students school supplies as well as meeting their other needs.

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