inewsource broke the story last week that the San Diego Unified School District lost out on up to $750,000 in federal funding for its homeless students. The reason? A finance official never signed the district’s grant application. inewsource’s Megan Wood has covered student homelessness in San Diego County.
Here are some of the main takeaways to know about the issue:
1. The scope of student homelessness in San Diego County
The number of homeless students in San Diego County has been growing over the past eight years.
County data show 23,854 students were homeless last year — a record high and a 4.7 percent increase over the previous year. These are numbers reported by school districts to the San Diego County Office of Education and include any student identified as homeless throughout the year.
San Diego Unified reported 6,767 — or 5.3 percent — of its students as homeless in its 2018 application. The district enrolled the third most homeless students in the state last year.
The county Office of Education, however, has acknowledged the homeless student count can sometimes be wrong. It all depends on who does the counting for each district and how they interpret federal guidelines for calculating who is homeless.
Total counts of homeless students can determine how much federal money a district is eligible to request. Funding for individual districts can range from $45,000 to $750,000 over a three-year period.
2. Defining student homelessness
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.
Of all homeless students identified in the county last year, 80 percent were living doubled up. The law requires districts to only count these students when the decision is based on financial hardship or loss of housing, not by choice. Determining that isn’t easy.
3. What is the McKinney-Vento Act?
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is a federal law that requires districts to report how many enrolled students are classified as homeless. The legislation authorizes funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, a federal grant initiative designed to support vulnerable students.
This is different from the definition of homelessness used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD and the U.S. Department of Education consider those who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” to be homeless, but the Education Department also includes:
- Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason
- Living in hotels, motels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations
- Living in substandard housing
4. What went wrong in San Diego Unified?
San Diego Unified lost its chance to receive up to $750,000 in federal funding for homeless students because of a missing signature on its application from a finance official.
The district official who oversees homeless student programs accepted blame for the missing signature, saying she should have gotten the signature from the finance official.
“It was a very unfortunate oversight,” Jennifer Coronel, program manager for the district’s Youth in Transition office, told inewsource. “We had two large grants due at the same time and that one went out without the required signature.”
5. What happens next?
After the application was rejected, Coronel said her office put protocols in place to ensure grants don’t go unsigned. That includes a checklist of all required items and a review by her director and executive director.
The office also underwent restructuring that she said will ensure homeless students continue to receive the support they need from the district.
Next year, the district will use six counselors to help the homeless students rather than the six resource teachers now used.
Coronel said that will better meet the students’ needs and will save the district money. Other needs will be funded through Title I, a program to support low-income students.
May 11, 2018
An official has taken the blame for San Diego Unified's lost funding to help its homeless students.
May 11, 2018
A missing signature on a grant application means San Diego Unified has lost its chance to receive $750,000 in federal funding to help homeless students.
Feb. 13, 2018
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.
Feb. 13, 2018
A searchable database of homeless student enrollment in San Diego County by district and charter school.
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