Kids aren’t homeowners, but they have paid an unforgiving price throughout the housing industry collapse. They have lost their homes, and consequently, they have frequently had to change schools. 41% of students who have experienced a loss of housing attend two or more schools in one year while 28% attend 3 or more in that time. These figures are concerning because research shows that school mobility hampers educational achievement. For instance, the United States Government Accountability Office recently reported that “students who changed schools more frequently tended to have lower scores on standardized reading and math tests and to drop out of school at higher rates than their less mobile peers.” Another study found that students who changed schools four or more times before sixth grade lost one year of educational progress.
The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act guarantees homeless youth access to the same free, appropriate public education that other youth receive. At the heart of the law is support for school stability. McKinney-Vento gives students the right to continue attending the same school and receive transportation to that school even as they may be moving from place to place. And, when transferring is in a particular student’s best interests, the law requires an expedited enrollment and records transfer process so that the change in schools does not result in missed class. Baltimore City Public Schools is currently implementing McKinney-Vento, and based on similar efforts around the country, we expect that the district will achieve lower school mobility among the homeless student population, fewer days missed because of lack of transportation or academic records, and higher test scores, promotion rates, and graduation rates.
However, let’s recognize that while school stability mechanisms do enormous good, they don’t address what the housing crisis has made clear: that residential instability drives school mobility. Housing must be reckoned with, and in fact, it is in the equation in other regions where schools and public and private housing agencies have developed “beds-not-buses” solutions that match services for homeless students in schools with the opportunity to access transitional housing near schools.
Can Baltimore’s schools, agencies, and foundations do the same, collaborating across disciplines to ensure that homeless students stay housed while they work to complete their education? That’s an audacious approach to school mobility.