Ongoing Government Efforts to Keep Homeless Children and Youth in School

Education Policy Brief #55 | By: Steve Piazza | September 8, 2022

Header photo taken from: The New York Times




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A mother and daughter at the First Place Scholars school in Seattle, Washington. The school is a tuition-free private elementary that serves low-income students, many of whom are homeless. The explosion of homelessness in Seattle has made national news.

Photo taken from: Elaine Thompson / AP

Policy Summary

After being approved last March by the House and Senate strictly along party lines, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) of 2021 was signed into law by President Biden. The ARP is a program supplement to Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Act,  and focusesfederal action that addresses homelessness and that has gone through various iterations since 1986.

The ARP designated $123 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) as part of a relief effort during the height of the Covid pandemic. Additionally, $800 million dollars was appropriated to The Homeless Children and Youth Fund (ARP-HCY) in order to provide support specifically for homeless students.

The ARP-HCY was created to help identify homeless children in an attempt to keep them in school and stay involved in school activities. The funds were also designated to secure wrap-around services, or coordinated efforts between agencies positioned to individualize support and in this case primarily in the context of COVID-19. 

Following approval of plans submitted by each state (all states submitted and had plans approved), The U.S. Department of Education released the money to each state in two phases over the last year.  In turn, states are required to directly grant 75% to LEAs, or local educational agencies, with the remainder of the funds to be used for state level efforts.

Policy Analysis

Most people are familiar with signs of homelessness in our society. It is heartbreaking to see the number of people requesting help on street corners, in front of shopping centers, and around overcrowded shelters.

But what is not often in plain sight are children and youth who are homeless. 

Though they are commonly sharing housing, living in foster care, staying at shelters, or sleeping in motels, rarely are they seen out on their own. Yet, their numbers are simply staggering. According to the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), approximately 1.2 million, 2.5% of all public school students nationally, were considered homeless at some point during the 2019-20 school year.

To combat this, notable action that has been taken by states, municipalities, and local systems using ARP-HCY funds in the effort to increase resources to homeless students includes:


  • New York and California: established centers that provide technical assistance
  • Kentucky and Tennessee: improved student management systems
  • Georgia: worked with its Afterschool Network to implement summer programming 
  • Iowa and Minnesota: expanded the federal Full-Service Community Schools Model which fosters cooperation amongst local child service agencies, especially in high poverty areas

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Missed Opportunities: Education Among Youth Experiencing Homelessness in America

Chart taken from: Voices of Youth Count

(click or tap to enlargen)


  • Louisiana: collaborated with the Harvard Innovation Lab to pilot round the clock mental health counseling and to reach out to over 10,000 homeless students with tutoring services
  • North Carolina: supplied student backpacks consisting of communication devices, hygiene products, and food
  • Washington, D.C.: transported students from emergency shelters to  summer enrichment programs
  • Kansas City Public Schools: distributed prepaid mobile phones to high school seniors
  • Paducah Public Schools: purchased a van using local donations, and worked with schools to provide basic needs like food and personal hygiene items

Data on the success of the program is still being collected, but even then it will be difficult to separate out the impact from all that has been put in place for homeless students over the years prior to the pandemic. Christina Endres of the NCHE states “that the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate was increasing in the majority of states before the pandemic and that even in School Year 2020-21 the percentage of students who were chronically absent was decreasing.” Reports on the last two school years are in the works and should at the very least shed light on whether that trend will continue.

The American Rescue Plan has been severely criticized by Republicans as another example of a liberal agenda that only increases taxes. However, one is hard-pressed to find reproval specifically of the ARP-HCY, since any negative statement on support for homeless children would not be in a politician’s best interest, specifically in anticipation of the midterms. Criticism would be more easily reserved for results of the program once they come in since it’s too early to tell.

There’s still a lot to learn about how much good the funding does, and about what works and what doesn’t. If anything, it’s important to prioritize the efforts to keep homeless students visible, and in schools.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

This is a good source of background information on government efforts regarding students homelessness:

For a report on student homelessness in the school years 2017–2018 to 2019–2020, click here:

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Here is the text of H.R.1319 – The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021:

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This information is from a non-profit advocating for homeless Students:

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