Last week, the state education department announced the release of federal funds that include more than $90,000 for area schools to support students experiencing homelessness.
When Congress approved the American Rescue Plan in March, the COVID-19 stimulus package included $800 million to assist students nationwide who are homeless. That money is now making its way to local learners.
More than $1.7 million has been released to 52 schools across the Granite State, according to an Oct. 27 news release from the N.H. Department of Education.
Nearly 240 students in the Monadnock Region experienced homelessness in the 2019-20 school year, the department’s data show. Statistics for the most recent year are being validated and will be available within the next month, department spokeswoman Kimberly Houghton said in an email.
The American Rescue Plan grants supplement money received under Title I, which is provided to schools with high numbers of students from low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Title I funds can be used for a range of purposes, including identifying students experiencing homelessness or for the costs of health and transportation services.
The Monadnock Regional School District, which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy, was allocated $13,000 in the recently released funding. And while Monadnock officials have yet to determine how the money will be spent, it will provide new opportunities to address homelessness within the district, according to Assistant Superintendent Jeremey Rathbun.
“This extra money is allowing us to do some extra things we haven’t been able to do,” he said. “And we’re excited about that.”
School officials have been discussing potential uses for the money and are seeking input from Monadnock families who are homeless to see what their needs are, Rathbun said.
People are often surprised that schools can help families with a range of challenges, such as providing clothing or organizing dental appointments, Rathbun said. The district has a few ideas for how the American Rescue Plan funds could be used, including bringing attention to issues of homelessness, he said. An awareness campaign would not only let families know that assistance is available, but also inform minors who aren’t living with a parent or guardian that they have options, and help staff know what they can do if they identify students in transient housing situations.
“Once we have that solid public input and we feel comfortable that the ideas we have are the best way to use these funds,” he said, “we’ll get them up and running.”
As assistance programs tied to the COVID-19 pandemic wind down, now can be an especially difficult time for families without stable housing, according to Jennifer Alexander, the McKinney-Vento liaison for the Keene School District. (The 1987 McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to provide services and support to youth experiencing homelessness.)
“I can say that since the eviction moratorium has been lifted, I have been noticing a greater number of families who are doubled up … and being doubled up — not by choice but by hardship — is part of the definition of homelessness,” she said, referencing a temporary ban on residential evictions established earlier in the pandemic. The statewide housing crisis makes it even more difficult for families to find suitable housing, she said.
In her role with the Keene School District, Alexander works with students and their families to ensure children have the support they need to do well in school. This can take many shapes, she said, including organizing transportation for students who may move out of the district but would like to remain enrolled at their “school of origin,” purchasing clothing and school supplies, enrolling students in free or reduced lunch, or even buying sports equipment for kids involved in extracurriculars. These services are covered by federal Title I funds, she said.
Keene has been allocated approximately $23,000 under ARP, according to the department of education.
Other area districts are receiving shares ranging from $141.75 in Harrisville to $14,316.75 for ConVal.
Winchester School District was allocated about $10,000. Business Manager Teresa Taylor said the funds — which will be “budgeted and used as needed” — aren’t sent directly to the district, but the district will be reimbursed after the money has been spent on pre-approved purposes.
Districts that have been allocated less than $5,000 are required to form a consortium in order to receive the funds, according to the department of education news release. Once a consortium is formed, the participating districts can pool the funds to be used jointly or split them into the initial allocations, with one district acting as a grant administrator in both cases, according to Houghton, the department’s spokeswoman.