US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin, Murray Announce Release of New GAO Report on Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program

Call For Continued Efforts to Ensure Homeless Children and Youth Can Attend and Succeed in School

Friday, August 22, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the HELP Committee, announced the release of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, which provides resources for states and school districts to identify homeless children and youth, helping to ensure they can attend and succeed in school.

Click here to read the full GAO report.

The GAO report found that while the EHCY program succeeds in providing services critical to helping homeless students overcome barriers to academic achievement, greater collaboration and oversight would increase the program’s effectiveness. In light of the report, Senators Murray and Harkin called for continued efforts to support and strengthen the EHCY program in line with GAO recommendations.

“Helping every student succeed is essential to building strong communities and to growing the economy, but more support is needed for the more than one million homeless children and youth in America,” Harkin said. “Today’s GAO report shows that while the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program is helping to provide access to essential services like transportation to school as well as health care and food assistance, additional coordination of state, federal and private organizations is critical. To ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed, we must do more to help this program fulfill its mission and give every homeless child a path to a bright future.”     

“The idea that any child or young person would fall behind in school, or simply not attend, because they don’t have stable, safe housing is a tragedy—and it’s unacceptable,” Murray said. “This report shows that while existing programs are successfully connecting many homeless children and youth to school and all the resources that come with it, there is much more we need to do to ensure every child has that same support, and I’ll continue to be focused on this challenge going forward.”

Key Findings

  • The GAO report studied 20 school districts to determine how districts identify and serve homeless students and challenges they face, how the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and states collaborate with other service providers to address student needs and any barriers, and the extent to which ED monitors program compliance.
  • The report identified several key challenges and areas to improve:
    • Under-identification of homeless students, cited by close to half of the districts studied (eight out of 20).
    • Limited staff and resources to provide services needed.
    • Insufficient funding to cover the cost of transportation for students to and from school.
    • The need to do more to adequately respond to and help students made homeless by natural disasters.
    • Limited resources and differing federal definitions of homelessness, which make it difficult to improve collaboration between the EHCY program manager, state program coordinators, other government agencies, and with private organizations.
    • Gaps in state monitoring of districts, which weaken success and effectiveness of the program.

As a result, the GAO recommended that the Department of Education develop a plan to monitor and ensure sufficient oversight of the EHCY program, with particular emphasis on the need for collaboration between relevant agencies and organizations at the federal, state, and local levels.

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