While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted learning for students across the country, those who are identified as homeless or housing insecure faced even more obstacles to keeping their education on track.
During the 2021-2022 school year, there were 20,950 Kentucky students identified as homeless, which is defined as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act authorizes the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (ECHY) Program and is the primary piece of federal legislation related to the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness.
To help support students experiencing homelessness, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) received $13 million from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief – Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) Fund. The ARP-HCY program provided a total of $800 million nationwide for the purposes of identifying homeless children and youth; providing homeless children and youth with wrap-around services in light of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic; and providing the assistance needed to enable homeless children and youth to attend school and participate fully in school activities.
These funds could be used by states to address urgent needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness, including academic, social, emotional and mental health needs. The funds also could also be used by states and local educational agencies (LEAs) to increase capacity by hiring staff, dedicating resources and planning partnerships with community-based organizations, among other strategies.
Kristy McNally, Newport Independent’s Services, Tools and Empowerment Program coordinator, stressed how vital the transportation need is to the success of homeless students.
“It’s the first thing students need to create consistency,” she said.
Newport used its ARP funds to support the district’s homeless youth, which allowed them to hire three full-time van drivers to ensure students can get to school. McNally said taxis were being used to take children to and from school before the funds, but that mode of transportation is disconnected from schools and unreliable for students. The vans provide additional routes to get students outside of the district who move due to quick address changes.
McNally said providing consistent and reliable transportation can have a big impact on a student. She shared one student had 63 tardies, suffering grades and behavioral issues. With the help of the homeless liaison and additional ARP-HCY funding to provide transportation, the student’s tardies went down, their grades improved and their behavioral issues were gone.
“The funding is important because it helps provide consistency that wasn’t there before,” said McNally.
Tiffany Reynolds, the homeless liaison and social service supervisor for Bullitt County, said her district was able to hire two drivers for school vans that pick up students who live outside of the district with the ARP-HCY funding they received from KDE.
In a summer program in Bullitt County called “Passion Projects,” three teachers are visiting meal service sites to read to children and give them books and activities to do. The teachers also check in on McKinney-Vento students to find out what area the student is passionate about – whether it is art, science or another subject – and then give the students activities related to their interest so they can keep learning over the summer.
Homelessness doesn’t have to be a barrier to student success if they have the proper support, Reynolds said.
“Despite the trauma and barriers homeless students face, they’re still able to be successful,” she said.
Zachary Stumbo, the homeless education coordinator in the KDE’s Division of School and Program Improvement in the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, said it was important for KDE to be able to help districts support students experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
“KDE believes in the importance of supporting homeless children and youth because every child deserves the opportunity to be successful,” he said.