SF public schools to shift focus, resources on homeless students as numbers rise

More than 2,100 students attending San Francisco public schools were identified as homeless in the last school year, and to the chagrin of education leaders, that number is climbing steadily.

An unaffordability crisis that has resulted in the displacement of families from their homes throughout The City has also factored into an increasing homelessness rate among youth in San Francisco, where one in every 25 students was homeless in the 2015-16 school year.

Particularly affected are the school district’s immigrant populations. More than half of The City’s homeless students are English Language Learners, and 1,093 homeless students are Latino.

“We need to change that number,” said San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Mark Sanchez on Wednesday at the board’s Budget and Business Services committee, where commissioners mulled over the financial impact of a resolution that would provide additional funding to schools with large numbers of homeless students.

The resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Matt Haney, will go before the full Board of Education in mid-October for a vote and would align the San Francisco Unified School District with federal policies around serving homeless students.

Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, school districts are required to work with schools to identify homeless students and to provide them with equal access to education.

Haney’s resolution would bring the SFUSD into compliance with the federal law. It calls for more rigorous data collection on the social and emotional needs of homeless students, tracking their academic outcomes and creating partnerships between the school district and city departments, such as the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

“We should be coordinating closely with shelters, SROs, community-based organizations,” Haney said. “We should be targeting our budgetary resources to meet the academic social and emotional needs of homeless students. We want to move from an approach that really does the minimum [to one] that provides the full scope of support.”

Transportation services and resources for homeless students at schools would also be bolstered. The policy’s implementation is expected to cost some $225,000 of the school district’s restricted funds.

The resolution requires that an SFUSD designee report to the Board of Education at least annually on homeless students’ attendance, test results, as well as retention and graduation rates. Based on the data collected, the school district would be tasked with developing strategies to better support homeless students in their education.

In an effort to ensure stability at school for a student experiencing homelessness, the resolution directs the school district to address enrollment barriers, such as missed application deadlines.

Barriers such as required records, like proof of immunizations, academic documents or residency, would be temporarily lifted to make it easier for homeless students to enroll.

“Often [homeless students] do not have a safe and stable place to sleep and study,” Haney said. “They may have particular challenges with getting to and from school, and [are] lacking supplies and clothing. They may experience specific social and emotional challenges associated with homelessness that we have a responsibly to address at school.”

Schools like Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in the South of Market neighborhood, where more than 120 students are reported to be homeless, would be eligible for “concentration grants,” meaning they would receive higher allocations of money than schools with lower homeless student concentrations.

“If a school has a high concentration of homeless students, they don’t necessarily get additional resources or support for those students,” Haney said. “That will change after this resolution is passed.”

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