Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Federal

Better Oversight Needed of Federal Program for Homeless Students, GAO Says

By Lauren Camera — August 22, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Education needs to provide better oversight of a federal program aimed at ensuring that homeless students have access to the public education system, a new Government Accountability Office report found.

The authors of the report, obtained by Education Week, listed several challenges to the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, which provides students with transportation to and from school as well as wraparound services such as health care, counseling, and food assistance. The biggest of those include limited staff and resources, the high cost of transportation, student stigma associated with homelessness, and responding to students made homeless by natural disasters.

And while the department has protocols for monitoring the program, the report notes, it doesn’t have a plan to ensure adequate oversight in every state. In fact, it the department assessed the program in just 28 states from fiscal year 2010 to 2013, and in only three states since then.

“The idea that any child or young person would fall behind in school, or simply not attend, because they don’t have stable, safe housing is a tragedy—and it’s unacceptable,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who requested the report along with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “This report shows that while existing programs are successfully connecting many homeless children and youth to school and all the resources that come with it, there is much more we need to do to ensure every child has that same support.”

The GAO report specifically examined how districts identify and serve homeless students, the challenges they face in doing so, how the department and states collaborate with other service providers, and the extent to which the department monitors program compliance. The report’s authors interviewed state and local officials in 20 school districts representing a mix of urban, suburban, and rural districts.

In addition to oversight challenges, one of the biggest problems the reports’ authors found is the under-reporting of homeless students, due to both their mobility and the financial disincentives school districts face in identifying them due to the cost of services districts must provide.

Federal and state offic

ials also told the report’s authors that their inability to coordinate services at the federal, state, and local levels due to limited staff and resources has been a significant barrier to the program’s effectiveness. Indeed, a survey of the 2010-11 school year by the Education Department found that more than half of the states, 27 total, had one or no full-time employees working in the state program office.

The program is operating with $65 million for fiscal year 2014.

“This GAO report shows that while the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program is helping to provide access to essential services like transportation to school as well as health care and food assistance, additional coordination of state, federal, and private organizations is critical,” said Harkin. “To ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed, we must do more to help this program fulfill its mission and give every homeless child a path to a bright future.”

This isn’t the first time Murray and Harkin have partnered on the subject of homeless students.

The duo cosponsored the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697) this Congress, which would distribute federal dollars in formula grants to states, with a state match, based on the state population of 4-year-olds under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. To be eligible, states would be required to offer state-funded kindergarten, establish early-learning standards, and be able to link prekindergarten data to K-12 data.

Murray, in particular has been a longtime champion of ensuring homeless students have access the public school system.

Other measures (S. 833, S. 834) she’s proposed would prioritize homeless children for access to child care, allow homeless students to remain in their original school, and increase funding to assist with the cost of transportation, among many other things. Murray also introduced a bill (S. 1754) that would increase access to college for homeless students and children in the foster care system.

“I’ll continue to be focused on this challenge going forward,” said Murray, who could be the next chairwoman of the HELP Committee when Harkin retires at the end of this year, should Democrats maintain control of the Senate.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal How Biden Will Mandate Teacher Vaccines, Testing in Some States That Don't Require Them
President Joe Biden's COVID-19 plan will create new teacher vaccination and testing requirements in some states through worker safety rules.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela administers a COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site for at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa.
Matt Rourke/AP
Federal Biden Pushes Schools to Expand COVID-19 Testing, Get More Teachers Vaccinated
President Joe Biden set teacher vaccine requirements for federally operated schools as part of a new effort to drive down COVID's spread.
7 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Washington. Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
President Joe Biden in a speech from the White House announces sweeping new federal vaccine requirements and other efforts in an renewed effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Harnik/AP