As the number of homeless children in the District is increasing, public schools need to redouble efforts to help them, according to a new report by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
More than 4,000 children in D.C. public schools qualified as homeless in the past school year, a 37 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year, the report found. That includes nearly a quarter of students in some schools. And one in eight schools had a homeless rate of more than 10 percent. The figures include families living with friends or relatives, as well as those living in shelters or motels.
“There’s been a huge spike in family homelessness,” said Jenny Reed, deputy director of the institute. “It’s the legacy of the recession in the District.”
Schools provide services to homeless students through a federal program under the McKinney-Vento Act, which requires schools to provide transportation and equal opportunities to participate in programs, among other services.
A designated liaison, often a school social worker or counselor, is in charge of tracking homeless students and connecting them and their families to resources. The report suggests that these liaisons need more support and training, and that it is time for the city to do a comprehensive assessment for how homeless children are identified and served.
The federal law provides funding, but the rate has actually declined in recent years as homelessness has increased. At current funding levels, the city gets about $35 per homeless student, a sum the report said is “not sufficient” to meet students’ needs.
The recommendations are part of a series of issue briefs, called “Unlocking Opportunities,” released last week by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. The series looks at poverty’s effects on children’s ability to learn and recommends services that can help them succeed. In all, one in four children in the District lived in poverty in 2012, defined as a family of three living on less than $18,500 a year.