WASHINGTON — Witnesses before a U.S. House panel on Wednesday advised lawmakers on how federal relief aid can help bridge educational gaps among children who are homeless and in foster care during the pandemic.
“While housing is critical, housing alone does not close the educational gap faced by students who have experienced homelessness,” Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, said in her testimony before a subcommittee of the House Education & Labor Committee.
She said in her research she found that the pandemic made it more difficult for schools to identify homeless students, making it harder for teachers and administrators to help those students.
“The longer a student who is homeless goes unidentified by their school, the more challenges that child faces and the more likely it becomes for them to struggle academically and socially at school,” Erb-Downward said during her opening statement.
“As we move forward, it is critical that the money in the American Rescue Plan set aside for homeless students be used to support robust identification practices at schools. The pandemic has led thousands of children who are homeless to slip through the cracks. We must find and support them.”
The chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, a Democrat from the Northern Mariana Islands, asked Erb-Downward, along with the other witnesses, how school districts were using funds provided by coronavirus relief packages to address those vulnerable students. The most recent measure, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, was passed earlier this year.
He also asked about the challenges teachers and administrators face when identifying students experiencing homelessness or those in foster care.
“The consequences of this gap in the services that homeless children have been able to access will be felt by all of us long after the pandemic is behind us,” he said.
James Lane, Virginia’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that because the American Rescue Plan provided $800 million for homeless students, Virginia’s schools will see an increase in McKinney-Vento funds. That is a federal program that ensures educational rights and protections for children experiencing homelessness, and Virginia’s share will rise from $1.7 million last year to $13 million.
“This additional federal funding provides an opportunity to scale new, creative support programs that had formerly relied on local grants,” he said. Read more