Supporting homeless students during back-to-school season

“Back to School for Homeless Children and Youth,” a webinar hosted by the California Department of Education on Aug. 24, served as a reminder for local educational agency leaders on requirements and tips for best serving students experiencing homelessness.

“This is a really important time to start thinking about these kids, where they’ve been the last couple of years and what we can do for them this school year,” said Leanne Wheeler, a consultant with CDE’s Integrated Student Support and Programs Office.

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, all LEAs must implement provisions of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program. A few of those provisions include providing stability, access and support for academic success; having a local homeless liaison to oversee identification, enrollment and success of these students; and working with Title I, Part A, and other federal programs, community agencies and service providers.

In California, ECHY funding is roughly $12 million annually. That money is dispersed to LEAs via a competitive grant process to support efforts related to assisting homeless youth. American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth funding is also available, and information can be found on the CDE website here.

Serving homeless students

LEAs must immediately identify and enroll homeless children and youth (ideally within two days or less, according to Wheeler) regardless of documentation like proof of residency, guardianship or health or school records. “You want to get them enrolled first and then work backwards to get that information,” Wheeler said.

The initial registration process, as well as tools like CDE’s housing questionnaire and accompanying guidance document, may be used to help with this task. The guidance reminds LEAs to make sure families or guardians know information provided is confidential. It also reminds staff to take families or guardians into a private place for discussions.

Educational rights must be posted and Wheeler said they should be placed where homeless students are most likely to see them (think food pantries, clothing closets, bathrooms, shelters or at faith-based organizations), while being mindful about placement where students might feel embarrassed to take in the information. CDE has posters of rights available in multiple languages including English and Spanish.

LEAs are also required to report the number of students enrolled throughout the academic year via CALPADS, the state’s student data system. It’s important to upload numbers as often as possible to ensure students receive appropriate supports.

“It’s really important that you make sure that [homeless students] are identified and tracked on or before Census Day, which is your first Wednesday of October. This is what generates funds for each LEA,” Wheeler said.

Census Day data is a point-in-time count that impacts Local Control Funding Formula allotments and free or reduced-price meals support.

Students and families experiencing homelessness can be served directly through services or indirectly by providing professional development and technical assistance to school employees. Training modules for school employees can be found here.

Regional supports for LEAs

To support LEAs throughout the state, three county offices of education — Contra Costa, Los Angeles and San Diego — have been named Homeless Education Technical Assistance Centers (HE TACs).

Leaders will develop and disseminate resources, offer professional development and ensure that LEAs have the capacity and tools they need to implement EHCY provisions.

COEs can find contact information for their regional leads here.

The regions hold quarterly meetings and share-and-learn sessions. Contra Costa and San Diego representatives said that mini grants for targeted supports, community schools and pilot projects are in the works. They are also developing relationships with community-based organizations.

One of San Diego COE’s statewide tasks included launching the newly introduced HE TAC website that houses statutes and guidance, resources, training and events postings and more.

General homeless education information can be found on the CDE’s website here.