Missing signature costs San Diego Unified funding for homeless students
The San Diego Unified School District’s Education Center is shown here on May 8, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Missing signature costs San Diego Unified funding for homeless students

The San Diego Unified School District enrolled the third most homeless students in the state last year, yet it will miss out on up to $750,000 in federal funding for these students because of a missing signature from a finance official on its application.

California school districts are eligible to apply for up to $250,000 in federal funding annually to help homeless students succeed. Whether districts get the money depends on how well their grant writers do in explaining the need for the funding.

A California Department of Education spokesman told inewsource the application was disqualified and not read because of the missing signature.

“Specific instructions are made clear,” spokesman Robert Oakes said in an email. “In addition, the date for applicants to appeal has passed.”

The district reported 6,767 — or 5.3 percent — of its students as homeless in its 2018 application. That made the district eligible to apply for a yearly $250,000 grant for the next three school years. The money would fund resources such as transportation, school supplies and staff for homeless students.

“We’re disappointed as a district that we weren’t funded. … That sums it up,” said Jennifer Coronel, program manager for the district’s Children and Youth in Transition office.

In the last three-year cycle, the district received $725,000 through the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program. Coronel said a bulk of that money paid for clothing and hygiene products for students and the salary of a staff member dedicated to homeless youth.

The county Office of Education and three San Diego County school districts — San Ysidro, Escondido Union and Poway Unified — will receive the federal grant money beginning in July. Eight San Diego County school districts and the county office submitted applications for funding.

The amount of money each district can receive varies depending on the number of homeless students reported, the maximum being $250,000 a year.

Despite missing out on the upcoming funding, Coronel said the support San Diego Unified offers homeless students won’t end, but it is changing. She said her office recently restructured, allowing it “to incur the costs that the grant would have supported.”

The district has six resource teachers in the Children and Youth in Transition Office dedicated to homeless students. Next year, she said, it will instead have six counselors who can provide students with “resources, clothing and links to mental health services.”

Coronel said that will better meet the students’ needs and will save the district money. The teachers are paid for 11 or more months throughout the year, while the counselors are 10-month employees. Other needs will be funded through Title I, a program designed to support low-income students.

Walter Philips, CEO of the nonprofit San Diego Youth Services, said specialized funding like the Education for Homeless Children and Youth grant is crucial even if San Diego Unified has other resources to support homeless students.

“There’s such little money that comes to San Diego for homeless youth across the board. … Anything we can get here in this community is valuable, especially when it’s dedicated for that purpose,” Philips said.

Students are classified as homeless when they lack a “fixed, adequate and regular nighttime residence.” That means living unsheltered, in transitional housing or shelters, in motels or hotels, or most frequently, doubled up in a home with another family. Identifying these students guarantees certain protections to help them immediately enroll and succeed in school.

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Last year, San Diego County schools identified nearly 24,000 homeless students — a record high and 4.7 percent increase over the previous year. These are numbers reported by school districts to the county Office of Education and include any student identified as homeless throughout the year.

The exact amount of funding San Ysidro, Escondido Union, Poway and the county Education Office will receive is not yet known, but across the U.S. $85 million has been allocated for the program in 2018.

California received about $7.3 million last year that was shared among 61 districts and county education offices. The next round of grant applications will be due in 2021.

Related:


San Diego County homeless student count reaches record high. But how real are the numbers?
New data show more than 23,800 students were homeless during the 2016-17 school year in San Diego County — a record high and a 4.7 percent increase over the previous year.

San Diego County Homeless Students: 2016-2017
A searchable database of homeless student enrollment in San Diego County by district and charter school.
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About Megan Wood:

Megan Wood
Megan Wood is a multimedia journalist for inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email meganwood@inewsource.org.