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Progressives Pressure Biden to Help Schools Address Student Homelessness

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 11, 2021 3 min read
In this June 23, 2020 photo, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-NY, speaks during a campaign event in New York.
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A group of progressive lawmakers in Congress is urging federal officials to do more to help schools address housing insecurity for students, following a new eviction moratorium adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early August.

In an Aug. 11 letter to President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, the seven Democrats said that unless additional steps are taken by education, health, and other agencies to address housing insecurity, in-person learning will be threatened and the coronavirus will only spread further.

Among other things, they urged collaboration across government agencies, and asked them to assist schools in exploring the full-service community school model, which focuses on coordination between educators and other officials to serve students’ academic, health, and social needs.

They also pushed the federal government to provide guidance to schools to help them be “systems of public care,” and asked the Biden administration what steps it is taking “to ensure all members of school communities remain housed.”

The new CDC eviction moratorium, which replaced a previous one that expired July 31 and was allowed to lapse for a few days, was met with a mixed reception. It is due to last until early October, although legal action could shorten its lifespan. Meanwhile, acute concerns about the plight of students facing homelessness or housing insecurity have persisted throughout the pandemic, even as basic information—such as how many homeless students there are—remains hard to come by.

“This moment calls for the urgent recognition that schools can be community hubs with strong, responsive networks of support in place across multiple agencies and community-based partners,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was signed by:

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.
  • Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo.
  • Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
  • Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

In July, the Education Department provided guidance to educators about how they can use American Rescue Plan aid to support community schools and similar strategies. “Community schools expand learning and enrichment opportunities for both students and parents alike, and promote family and community engagement in education, which ultimately can bolster students’ success,” Cardona said in a statement accompanying the guidance.

Bowman, who was a middle school principal before being elected to Congress last year, said in an interview that one of his primary goals is the creation of more community schools to meet the present instability that families are facing.

Addressing the ‘holistic needs of our children and families’

He said he wants schools to be ready to respond if evictions spike in the coming months. And stressing the need for a systemic response, Bowman wants different agencies to respond to students’ psychological and other trauma related to disruptions in their housing situations. Focusing solely on students’ academic standing in the current circumstances, he said, is a mistake.

“We have a unique opportunity to meet these holistic needs of our children and families,” Bowman said. “It’s not just resources for education. It’s, how do we leverage resources for education, health care, and other things?”

The lawmakers’ letter was also provided to several other federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services. They also note that from from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2018, the Education Department distributed 47 federal grants for full-service community schools, a relatively small number out of the nation’s roughly 100,000 public schools. (Subsequently, in fiscal 2019 and 2020, the department awarded 27 such grants.)

Bowman also pointed out that he has supported provisions in a House spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that would more than double spending on Title I aid for disadvantaged students, and increase grant funding for Full-Service Community Schools from $30 million to $443 million.

It remains to be seen, however, whether such massive increases survive the congressional appropriations process. (Separately, Bowman introduced the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act in July.)

Asked how he would respond to educators who believe starting a new full-service community school model might especially challenging amid the pandemic, Bowman replied that public schools by default are already dealing with such systemic issues that have only been underscored by COVID-19.

As an educator, Bowman said, “You learn very quickly that whatever the issues your students and their families are dealing with, they intersect at the doorstep of our schools.”

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