Blog Article

Untapped ARP Funds Can Help Keep Homeless Students In School

March 20, 2024

This guest blog post is by Barbara Duffield, Executive Director of the nonprofit, SchoolHouse Connection.

A confluence of crises is contributing to unprecedented levels of homelessness that is keeping millions of students from showing up to school.

National data shows that more than half of students experiencing homelessness in the 2021-2022 school year were chronically absent, a rate that jumped 20% following the pandemic.

Yet many education leaders are unaware that pandemic relief funding specifically targeted to student homelessness can be used to address the root causes of chronic absence. With just seven months remaining to obligate federal American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth, or ARP-HCY funding, there is still time to leverage this revenue to identify students who are experiencing homelessness and remove barriers to their school attendance.

Increasing Homelessness, Increasing Chronic Absence

Public schools reported 1.2 million preK-12 students experiencing homelessness during the 2021-2022 school year, a 10% increase over the previous year.

Last year, the number of families in homeless shelters increased by 16%, while the number of unaccompanied youth in homeless shelters increased by 15%. Even greater numbers of homeless children, youth, and families move between couches, cars, floors, motels, and other unstable situations.

Children and youth without safe, stable housing face numerous barriers to regular school attendance: high mobility, traumatic events, and lack of transportation, clothing, hygiene products and cell phones combine to create significantly higher chronic absence rates. Yet many families and students don’t know that they have strong educational rights provided by federal law (the McKinney-Vento Act) , and they may assume school is one more loss caused by their homelessness.

Using ARP-HCY Funds to Identify Homeless Students and Increase Attendance

A bipartisan amendment to the ARP allocated $800 million to help schools identify and support homeless students. The U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidance illustrating the wide range of permitted uses for these funds, including uses that directly remove barriers to school attendance, including those listed below.

● Transportation: Lack of transportation is one of the biggest barriers to regular school attendance for students experiencing homelessness. Federal law requires schools to provide transportation to facilitate school stability and remove transportation barriers to enrollment and retention. ARP-HCY funds can be used to purchase vehicles, gas cards, bikes and public transit passes, as well as to pay for car repairs and provide stipends for drivers.

● Communication: Families and youth who experience homelessness move frequently, abruptly, and often with little advance notice. These federal funds can be used to purchase cell phones, hot spots and wireless service plans to increase communication between families, youth and schools.

● Identification and outreach: Families and youth who don’t know they have a right to enroll in school without a permanent address may simply give up on school. ARP-HCY funds can be used for posters and other awareness-building materials. They can support professional development to help educators recognize the signs and potential indicators of homelessness.

● Meeting basic needs: ARP-HCY funds can be used to purchase store cards or prepaid debit cards that can be used to purchase clothing, shoes, or a place to do laundry or shower. District homeless liaisons report these purchases have proven to be a powerful way to build trust and re-engage families and youth.

● School supplies: Funds can cover the cost of school supplies and fees for students to participate in educational and extracurricular activities.

● Short-term motel stays: Being able to place families and youth in motels for a short period of time can not only increase safety and attendance, it also can help bridge the gap until longer-term housing arrangements can be made.

● Mentors and other supportive adults: ARP-HCY funds can be used to pay stipends for mentors, and to contract with community-based organizations for afterschool and summer school programs.

● Mental health: The Centers for Disease Control’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that students who experienced homelessness were more than three times as likely to have attempted suicide during the past year when compared to their peers. ARP-HCY funds can be used to increase counseling supports for homeless students, either directly or by contracting with community-based providers.

These examples illustrate some, but not all, of the ways in which ARP-HCY funds can be used to increase school attendance for students experiencing homelessness. To find out if your school district received these funds, contact your State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Find more information from the following resources:

● U.S. Department of Education Letter to Chief State School Officers, September 2023
● Two-page overview of allowable ARP-HCY uses of funds
● Flexing the Flexibility series. Seven short briefs with specific examples of how school districts are using these funds for these purposes.
● SHC’s ARP-HCY page has sample forms, MOUs, and other resources.

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