By Caroline Iosso, Senior Policy Associate, Homes for the Homeless (HFH)
This month, the Fair Student Funding (FSF) working group, convened by the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE), will present a list of recommendations for reforming New York City public school system’s Fair Student Funding metric. This metric determines 60% of each public school’s funding. One of the issues up for debate is whether the funding formula should include “weights”—or more funding per student in a given category—for students in temporary housing.
Adding funding weights for students in temporary housing, and weights for students in shelters, is critical to addressing their unique and compounding challenges in accessing and achieving a quality education. What students bring with them to school complicates learning and each compounding challenge requires additional support.
There are existing funding streams outside of the FSF that go toward the educational needs of students living in temporary housing, and the FSF does include some weights that touch on some of the interconnected issues facing these students. However, they do not provide enough support. Here’s why:
- The McKinney-Vento federal grant, which supports students in temporary housing, does not even scratch the surface of need for this population. The entire New York City school system receives merely $2.5 million annually, which breaks down to $25 per student each year.
- The Fair Student Funding formula currently provides a $0.12 weight for “poverty,” broadly defined. There are continuums of funding based on needs for other categories, such as special education, academic needs, and English language learning;i schools need a poverty continuum as well. After all, a student stably housed in a NYCHA apartment has different needs than a student living in a homeless shelter.
Students in temporary housing need additional support because they face specific and unaddressed challenges in accessing and completing their education. Some of the challenges are the following:
- Educational Disruption
- Compounding Barriers to Stable Education
- Educational Lags and Difficulties Graduating on Time
For students residing in shelter, there are additional challenges that further magnify the above. Some students attend schools far from the shelter, leading to lengthy commutesviii that can cause exhaustion, difficulty concentrating in classes, absenteeism, or the need to transfer schools during the school year.
Students in shelter also may be unable to access enrichment opportunities that are more available to their stably housed peers. These opportunities can be closed off to students living in shelter because of transportation challenges, family schedules, and distances between shelter and school. Enrichment programs like after school programs, sports, and cultural experiences are critical to bolster students’ academic and social-emotional learning. At Homes for the Homeless (HFH), ICPH’s affiliate organization and family shelter provider, we are able to house these types of programs at our shelters to give kids the option to participate, but not every shelter can do this.
So where could funding be directed to support students in temporary housing and students in shelter, if specific weights were added? Some ideas include supporting community coordinators in shelters and liaisons in schools to help with the coordination among families, shelters, students, and schools. Another key area that requires attention is missed learning opportunities associated with the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted students in temporary housing.ix
Extra academic support often in the form of high-dosage tutoring is critical to help students catch up to their peers. We also hope that the committee will speak with staff who work with families in the shelter system, education staff who work with students in school, and students themselves (as well as their parents) who are either currently attending or have attended public school while living in shelter to find out what academic or social-emotional learning enhancements would be helpful and where additional support is needed.
Previous homelessness as a child is often a predictor of homelessness as an adult.x If New York City ever wants to stop the cycle, investing in the education of homeless students is critical.