Nonprofits Collaborate with Educators to Teach Homeless Kids

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April 11, 2011; Source: Education Week | In San Diego, the Monarch School for grades K through 12 serves homeless kids exclusively. It is a public school, but it really is a public-private partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project. According to Education Week, it is one of only a few public schools serving homeless kids in the U.S.

The National Center on Family Homelessness estimated in 2009 that one out of every fifty children had experienced homelessness (meaning "not having a stable, long-term place to stay"). In Phoenix, the Children First Academy, a charter school, also specializes in educating homeless kids. The families whose kids attend Children First often have lost living support from friends and relatives leading to homelessness.

The Monarch principal noted that many of his pupils were never homeless until now, many having lost their homes due to foreclosure, indicating a new increase in the homeless population. Are public school systems open to homeless kids? In San Diego, more than half of the Monarch School's funding comes from the nonprofit side of the public-private partnership. Why? Perhaps because homeless kids have higher than normal academic challenges, including twice the rate of learning disabilities of non-homeless children.

The McKinney-Vento law seems to be an important mechanism for getting homeless kids into schools (at the time it was passed, only 25 percent of homeless pupils were enrolled, but today it is more like 85 percent), because homeless families don't have to provide proof of residency like other parents typically do and the law waives required submission of immunization, medical, and academic records. This appears to be a very legitimate nonprofit relationship with public schools, providing the advocacy and resources necessary to get the hidden population of homeless kids a decent education.—Rick Cohen