Commentary

More Pa. public school students are homeless, and they’re slipping through the cracks | Wednesday Morning Coffee

March 3, 2021 7:13 am

(Research for Action, screenshot)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The number of Pennsylvania public school students who are experiencing homelessness has skyrocketed over the last few years. And it’s a problem that’s likely going to get worse amid the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more families are brought to the tipping point of homelessness, a new report has found.

More than 31,000 Pennsylvania public school students, or 1.8 percent of the state’s total student population, were identified as homeless in 2018-19, the report by Philadelphia-based Research for Action found. That’s a 37 percent increase since 2013-14, the research organization concluded.

Students experiencing homelessness have a variety of living situations, including living in a hotel, a shelter, sharing someone else’s home (the most common situation), or living in a place not meant for human habitation, such as a car or an abandoned building.

Identifying students who are experiencing homelessness is the first step toward providing these young people with the assistance they need. But Pennsylvania schools lag the nation in identifying these students, the research found.

Keystone State schools identified 10.1 students experiencing homeless per 100 students in poverty, compared to the nationwide rate of 15.7 students experiencing homeless per 100 students in poverty. That indicates that Pennsylvania “likely under-identifies” the student homeless population overall.

Pennsylvania ranked 36th out of 50 states in identification of homeless students per school-aged children in poverty, the report found. Researchers also said the data indicates that Philadelphia, which has the largest homeless population in the state, is failing to identify students who are experiencing homelessness, particularly in the city’s charter’s schools.

(Photo by Getty Images)

According to researchers, that’s a problem for a number of reasons.

“Not only are school districts legally liable to identify [these students], but these highly mobile students have also been through traumas and require additional resources to serve effectively and achieve academically,” the report’s authors wrote.

“Due to systemic barriers, students of color, LGBT students, older youth living on their own, and students who are expectant or parenting are overrepresented among [students experiencing homelessness,” they continued, adding that these students are “especially vulnerable in the era of remote or mixed-delivery instruction, since they often lack a stable place to learn during the day.

As a result of these and other barriers, students who are experiencing homelessness “have lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, lower high school graduation rates, and higher dropout rates. This makes timely identification and support all the more important,” the report found.

(Photo by Getty Images)

And it’s not a challenge confined just to traditional public schools, the report concluded. The percentage of students experiencing homelessness who enrolled in Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter schools increased from 0.4 percent in 2013-14 to 3.0 percent in 2018-19. More than 1,100 students experiencing homelessness are now attending the state’s cyber-charter schools, the report found.

In addition, the enrollment of students experiencing homelessness grew over the course of the school year statewide in both public schools and cyber-charter schools, but did not increase in brick-and-mortar charter schools, the report found.

And the challenge has been further exacerbated by the pandemic, researchers found.

Students who are experiencing homelessness have “a higher risk of asthma, overall poorer health, and inability to properly socially distance due to conditions in homeless shelters or overcrowded doubled-up settings make these students and their families particularly likely to be affected by COVID,” researchers said.

What’s more, those students “are more likely to lack a stable place to do schoolwork, a high-quality internet connection, and 1:1 devices that can connect to the internet.

“Even when students start the year with these resources, their mobility and housing challenges make it difficult to maintain a stable connection or working device for the full year. For these reasons, it is now even more crucial that students’ homelessness status is identified and schools address these additional support needs,” they concluded.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Tired of waiting for the state to get its act together on vaccines, grassroots groups are popping up across the state to help people schedule appointments and get shots into their arms, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

State lawmakers had plenty of questions for the Department of Labor & Industry during the agency’s annual budget hearing on Tuesday — they mostly focused on the agency’s disastrous handling of unemployment compensation claims during the pandemic, Stephen Caruso reports.

Activists have sued an Allegheny County judge, charging he blocked virtual access to his courtroom, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

In Philadelphia, as educators have gotten vaccinated, the city’s Black teachers are underrepresented, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, a Concord Law School professor explains how a Pennsylvania case now before the U.S. Supreme Court may impact what public school students all over the country can – and can’t – say on social media. 

(Getty Images via The Beacon)

Elsewhere.
Philadelphia is set to open its first mass vaccination site on Wednesday. And Pa. teachers are set to join the eligibility list, the Inquirer reports.
The Pittsburgh Penguins allowed fans into PPG Paints Arena for the first time on Tuesday night, the Post-Gazette reports.
Most central Pennsylvania residents don’t want to have to pay to cross the South Bridge over Interstate 83 in Harrisburg, PennLive reports.
The Northern Lehigh Schools in Lehigh County will bring students back four days a week, the Morning Call reports.
Seats on Luzerne County’s election board have been declared vacant after three Republican elected officials were found ineligible to sit on the panel, the Citizens-Voice reports.
York City Council has approved the $235 million sale of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

In Philadelphia, the Flyers and ‘Sixers are set to welcome back fans, WHYY-FM reports.
Victims of unemployment fraud have been ‘blindsided’ by tax documents reporting income they never took, Spotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).
USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capitol Bureau runs down what’s known 
about the thousands of Pennsylvania Republicans who are switching parties (via GoErie, paywall).
Pennsylvania schools may delay standardized testing until the fall, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Tax-free ‘opportunity zones’ don’t boost economic activity, Stateline.org reports.
The White House has abandoned Neera Tanden’s nomination to run the Office of Management and Budget, Roll Call reports.What Goes On.

The Senate Education and Health & Human Services committees hold a joint hearing in the state Senate chamber at 10 a.m. this morning. In the House, budget hearings continue before the House Appropriations Committee, with the state Department of Human Services getting the panel’s attention for the entire day, starting at 10 a.m.Also today, in the House:
9:30 a.m, 205 Ryan: 
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
10 a.m., 60 East Wing: Game & Fisheries Committee
11 a.m, G50 Irvis: House Democratic Policy Committee
1:30 p.m, G50 Irvis: House Republican Policy Committee

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Harrisburg community advocate Blake LynchMary Alice Carter, of the reproductive rights group Real Alternatives, and Carolyn Simpson, at the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, all of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
The other night, we were reminded that Twitter doesn’t have to be entirely soul-destroying when we got involved into a protracted discussion with one user about the genius of Welsh rockers The Alarm, who were among those 1980s bands tapped to be the next U2, but who never quite got there. But they did do anthemic stadium rock like no one’s business. As evidence, here’s their first, and greatest hit, the very anthemic “The Stand.”

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Speaking of the Penguins, they beat Philadelphia 5-2 on Tuesday night, even without the services of Sidney Crosby, who was on the COVID protocol list and out of the lineup.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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