Education: A Long-Term Strategy to Address and Prevent Child and Youth Homelessness

Topics: ESSA

At KnowledgeWorks, our primary vision is to create an education system that truly benefits all students. As such, I find it extremely valuable to share the insights of organizations that work with vulnerable populations, for these are the groups of learners that are often not finding success within the current system. In my opinion, it is imperative that we continually deepen our understanding of the unique situations traditionally marginalized students face, and explore how we might tailor the flexibilities and innovations of personalized learning to fit their needs. – Anne Olson, director of state advocacy for KnowledgeWorks

Guest post by Patricia Julianelle, the director of program advancement and legal affairs for SchoolHouse Connection, a national organization working to overcome homelessness through education.

Patricia Julianelle, from SchoolHouse Connection, shares why education is the most important long-term strategy to address and prevent child and youth homelessness. Public schools identified more than 1.3 million students experiencing homelessness in the 2015-16 school year. Data show that many more are unseen and unserved. Lack of housing profoundly affects children’s physical health and emotional well-being. However, child and youth homelessness is more than just a housing problem. Education is the most important long-term strategy to address and prevent child and youth homelessness.

Recent national research from Chapin Hall found that lack of a high school diploma or GED is the top risk factor for young adult homelessness, resulting in a 4.5 times higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness. We know that education is the key to preventing and overcoming homelessness. Yet, students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school than their stably housed peers, due to multiple barriers such as hunger, poor health, trauma, and constant mobility.

Helping students experiencing homelessness succeed in school

What do students experiencing homelessness need in order to do well in school? They need good teachers and safe schools and, just like all students, in-school supports that meet them where they are. But they also need additional accommodations so they can attend school and earn credits even as homelessness forces them to move around and exposes them to extreme trauma. They need consistent mentorship at school to help them stay on track to graduate. And they need access to services outside school, such as food, transportation, health and mental health care and, of course, housing.

The McKinney-Vento Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), ensures many of these accommodations. For example, the McKinney-Vento Act gives students experiencing homelessness the right to remain in one school, and receive transportation to that school, even as they move among homeless situations in different school districts. It also requires schools to identify and remove barriers that prevent homeless students from receiving appropriate credit for full or partial coursework completed at prior schools. This ESSA amendment allows students to earn partial credits even when their mobility means they only stay in one school for a short time. The Sacramento County Office of Education has created an on-line partial credit calculator to assist schools in calculating partial credits. Other districts use tests of mastery to measure credits. When students enter with partial credits, schools should enroll students in similar classes so they can continue accruing credits, or offer a supported on-line learning environment to complete those classes. To facilitate implementation of these provisions, several states have enacted legislation that requires the award of partial credits and alternative diplomas. These state laws help minimize the effects of homelessness and mobility on a student’s progress toward graduation.

SchoolHouse Connection works to ensure children and youth experiencing homelessness can access everything they need to succeed in school and overcome their homelessness, forever. We do this through:

  • Our State Policy Project, which assesses state policy barriers and works with teams of state advocates to eliminate those barriers through legislative change.
  • Our Youth Leadership and Scholarship Program, which provides mentorship and financial support to students experiencing homelessness, while simultaneously involving the youth in structured opportunities to create lasting policy change at the state and national levels.
  • Education Leads Home, a national campaign focused on closing the high school graduation gap and creating more pathways to postsecondary attainment for students experiencing homelessness. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, Civic Enterprises and America’s Promise Alliance co-lead this campaign, with the goals that:
  • Young children experiencing homelessness will participate in quality early childhood programs at the same rate as their housed peers by 2026.
  • Homeless students will reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2030.
  • Homeless students will reach a 60 percent post-secondary attainment rate by 2034.

To learn more about child and youth homelessness and education, visit or contact Patricia Julianelle, our Director of Program Advancement and Legal Affairs.