More districts receiving dedicated homeless student funding, but rural areas still lag

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Dive Brief:

  • New data shows a dramatic increase in the number of school districts that got dedicated funding to address the needs of children experiencing homelessness in the 2020-21 school year — and yet more than 25 million children continued to attend schools in districts without this aid.

  • Preliminary data from 48 states shows 53% of districts got dedicated homeless funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, a jump from just 19.5% prior to the pandemic, according to an analysis of 2020-21 school year data by SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. Still, in the 2020-21 school year, roughly half of all public school students nationwide continued to attend schools in districts that lacked dedicated homeless funding used to identify and support homeless students.

  • The analysis also shows rural districts enrolled 20% of homeless children, even though they serve only 15% of the student population nationwide. Rural districts also have the largest share of districts without homeless education funding, at 88%.

Dive Insight:

ARP provided a historic $800 million to identify and support homeless students and led to an expanded number of districts receiving funding.

During the 2020-21 school year, public schools identified and enrolled nearly 1.1 million students experiencing homelessness, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. This represents a 14% decrease during the first pandemic school year, with the majority of states seeing enrollment declines for this student group. 

This is concerning to advocates and McKinney-Vento district liaisons, considering the decrease in homeless students is at least partly attributed to underidentification of students rather than their families having achieved housing stability. 

The SchoolHouse Connection analysis confirms that inadequate funding dedicated to homeless education contributes to this underidentification. In rural areas, which already enroll a disproportionate portion of students who are homeless, it’s likely these students are still undercounted due to the percentage of districts without dedicated funding.

“In fact, I think underidentification in rural areas is likely even greater than other geographies, because of how hidden homelessness is in rural communities,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, which advocates for homeless students and district liaisons. 

However, a steep bump in dedicated homeless funding through ARP allowed thousands of districts that hadn’t received regular McKinney-Vento subgrants to take advantage of this support.  

While advocates hoped the historic increase in funding would be sustained, the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program was funded at just $129 million for fiscal year 2023. That’s much less than the $800 million provided under ARP, but still a 38% increase since 2019 and the largest bump in fiscal funding seen in recent years.

Whether next year’s fiscal funding maintains or increases this amount is yet to be seen. However, the administration requested on Thursday for Congress to maintain this amount in the 2024 budget.

“And, given the correlation between dedicated funding and identification, there is even more reason for this funding level [$800 million] to be sustained,” said Duffield.

This article originally appeared in

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