Kentucky School Advocate
By Patricia Julianelle
In 2019, the Kentucky state legislature passed House Bill 378, requiring the state board of education to develop regulations to increase high school graduation for students experiencing homelessness. In Kentucky, students experiencing homelessness graduate at a rate of 84.7%, one of the lowest student groups, and less than both the rates for economically disadvantaged students (88.1%) and the overall four-year graduation rate (91.1%). HB 378 replicates policies in place in other states that can help close this gap.
Students experiencing homelessness face numerous barriers to graduation, including frequent moves, poor health and nutrition, trauma and instability. As early as elementary school, academic achievement is slowed during periods of homelessness. These achievement gaps persist even after students move into permanent housing, and ultimately result in homelessness being associated with an 87% increased likelihood of dropping out of school (the highest of all risk factors studied).
A high school diploma is a critical resource for young people and an important contributor to the state’s overall economy. Increasing Kentucky’s graduation rate by two percentage points could generate more than $10 million in earnings, $660,000 in state and local tax revenue, and nearly $20 million in health care savings. For students experiencing homelessness, a diploma serves an even more basic purpose – it is the key to ending their homelessness. The largest national study of youth homelessness found the lack of a high school degree to be the greatest single risk factor for young adult homelessness.
HB 378 is a powerful tool to increase high school graduation and end the homelessness of Kentucky’s 24,160 homeless students. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, homelessness includes children and youth who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason, as well as those staying in motel rooms, inadequate housing, shelters, cars or outdoors.
The board of education issued regulations to help these students graduate in several ways. First, Kentucky’s regulations require the award of partial credits to homeless students. To that end, local educational agencies (LEAs) must adopt written procedures that specify the tool or methodology they will use to calculate credits, consolidate partial credit and provide opportunities for credit accrual. Many school districts have contacted SchoolHouse Connection (SHC) for suggested strategies to develop and implement credit award and recovery procedures. SHC has a strategy guide for awarding partial credits to students experiencing homelessness, as well as a practical implementation webinar and a checklist for counseling staff. (See graphic at right)In addition to awarding partial credits, LEAs also must:
• Provide students experiencing homelessness access to extracurricular and summer programs, credit transfer and electronic course services, and after-school tutoring and other extended school services available in the district at nominal or no cost.Reasoning:
Students experiencing homelessness struggled more than most to participate in distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. To continue progressing academically, they need immediate access to tutoring and other enrichment programs.
• Grant priority placement in classes that meet state minimum graduation requirements for students who change schools at least once during a school year as a result of homelessness.
School mobility can knock students off track for graduation. Therefore, students who change schools must be prioritized for accessing classes that are required for graduation.
• Award a high school diploma to homeless students who transferred out of the district after their second year of high school and are ineligible to graduate from their new district, but meet the graduation requirements of the district from which they transferred.Reasoning:
Often, students who are progressing toward a diploma in one district are forced to change school districts when homelessness disrupts their housing. These students must have the opportunity to graduate from their previous school district if they meet the requirements
• Exempts students from coursework and other requirements that exceed minimum state high school graduation requirements, if the student transferred schools at any time after their second year of high school and are ineligible to graduate both from their original and subsequent district(s).Reasoning:
School transfers also can make it extremely difficult for students to meet local district graduation requirements that exceed the state minimum. Homeless students who change schools late in their high school career have the right to receive a diploma if they meet the state minimum requirements.
As school districts seeks to implement these new requirements to support students experiencing homelessness, it is important to keep in mind that federal ESSER funds include a required 20% LEA set-aside to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on specific student groups, including students experiencing homelessness. In addition, many Kentucky school districts will soon receive supplemental federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Homeless Children and Youth Program. Patricia Julianelle, (Twitter @PFJulianelle
) is a senior strategist for program advancement and legal affairs at SchoolHouse Connection, a Washington, D.C-based national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education.