LAUSD ahead of new law on LCAP funds for homeless students
Craig Clough | July 21, 2015
Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.
As the result of a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, California’s school districts must specifically outline in their Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) how they will help homeless students, through tracking their test scores and other accountability measures.
The law is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, according to Ed Source. Most districts drew up their LCAPs for this year before the law went into effect, but LA Unified is ahead of the ball, having already set aside $1.8 million in its 2015-16 LCAP specifically to help homeless students.
Estimates put LA Unified’s homeless student population at almost 16,000, which is more than the entire student population of about 900 of California’s 1,000-plus districts, so LA Unified has had no problem figuring out what to do with the extra funds, which is going toward expanding its Homeless Education Program.
The program, which is part of the Pupil Services division, will be increasing its number of counselors to 19, from seven, and doubling the number of aides, to four.
Of its seven current counselors, two were stationed at specific schools with high homeless populations and the other five were at the district’s Educational Service Centers. Erika Torres, director of pupil services for LA Unified, said plans are still being worked out where to station the new counselors, but they may work out of actual homeless shelters or FamilySource centers, which the district runs in partnership with the city.
The new counselors will also help provide a larger scope of training for district staff. Every school is required by federal law to designate a staff homeless liaison, and due to the size of the district, that liaison’s training was usually limited to a 15-minute course, Torres said. But now, the district intends to expand training of the liaisons.
“This is an opportunity to increase our outreaching and provide in-depth training to school staff, which is something that we haven’t had an opportunity to do,” Torres said.
Another focus will be on identifying more homeless students and informing them of their rights and what services the district can offer. Torres said she believed that the most recent estimate of the district homeless population, based on 2013 data, is low due to the reluctance of students and families to identify themselves as homeless.
“We are hoping to have more counselors to provide technical assistance to schools and train all of our district staff on what exactly is homeless, so anyone on campus can help a student to identify themselves confidentially and be sensitive about it,” said Nancy Gutierrez, the Homeless Education Program coordinator.
Being homeless, according to the legal definition, does not just mean living on the streets or in a car, Torres said, It can also reflect “doubling up,” meaning a student’s family may be living with another family in a space meant only for a single family.
The primary way the district identifies homeless students is by their self-identifying at registration. By increasing the training and sensitivity in district staff, students and families will be more likely to be honest, Torres said.
“They have to feel comfortable enough to disclose their family situation,” Torres said.
The district will now also be able to get donated goods into the hands of homeless students faster. LA Unified operates a warehouse full of donated goods like clothes, toiletries and backpacks. One of the main jobs of the pupil services aides — which are also increasing, to four from two — is to field phone calls from district staff who are requesting donated goods for a student.
“The aides are responsible for then going to the warehouse and putting together a bundle of good and delivering it to the school,” Torres said.
One way the distinct hopes to get more homeless students to identify themselves is by bringing extra focus on high achievers among them. At a Graduate Recognition Luncheon for several dozen homeless graduates in May, the district handed out 10 college scholarships of $500 apiece. Two of the graduates spoke and shared their personal struggle.
“I was impressed that they were, as teenagers, able to talk about their stories so openly. It was very nice to hear that they were confident enough to do so,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also said she hopes the new focus and money for homeless students is “not the end, but the beginning.”