2020-21 State Initiatives on Student Homelessness

Data show that students experiencing homelessness have among the lowest high school graduation rates of any student population – the result of mobility, invisibility, and multiple traumas beyond the lack of housing. Failing to receive a high school diploma makes it far more likely for these students to continue to experience homelessness in the future, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and housing instability. The adverse impacts of homelessness begin in early childhood, and continue as barriers to postsecondary access and completion. As more data becomes available about homeless students’ educational participation and outcomes, it is essential that this vulnerable population is intentionally embedded in action plans and dedicated resources to increase educational opportunity and equity. 

The campaign has set three ambitious goals for supporting children and youth experiencing homelessness:

Goal #1

By 2026, young children experiencing homelessness will participate in quality early childhood programs at the same rate as their housed peers.

Goal #2

A 90% high school graduation rate for homeless students by 2030.

Goal #3

A 60% postsecondary attainment rate for homeless students by 2034.

To meet this need, Education Leads Home (ELH) was launched in 2018. ELH is a national initiative coordinated by SchoolHouse Connection focused on improving educational and life outcomes for children and youth who experience homelessness. ELH’s vision is a long-term, permanent reduction in homelessness through increased educational attainment. The initiative seeks to raise awareness of key challenges and increase implementation of proven practices and policies that improve educational outcomes, from early childhood through postsecondary, for one of the country’s most vulnerable student populations. 

ELH seeks to meet these goals by supporting teams of state leaders, including state educational agency homeless coordinators, Head Start State Collaboration Offices, institutions of higher education, advocates, and homeless service providers. SchoolHouse Connection facilitates and provides support to state teams through:

  • Mini-grants. During the 2020-2021 school year, the ELH initiative awarded mini-grants to 12 state teams to build the work within their state;
  • Customized strategic support, including bi-monthly state team check-in calls, goal-setting, and customized action roadmaps; 
  • A monthly community of practice virtual session which convened all state teams and centered on real-world problems of practice and peer troubleshooting.

SHC is proud of the progress made to date by state teams, which are summarized in this document. 

New Data Emphasizes the Challenges Students Experiencing Homelessness Face in Graduating High School

By Matthew Atwell, Senior Researcher at Civic, a partner of the Education Leads Home Campaign

On March 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released data on high school graduation rates for the 2018-19 school year, revealing an all-time high of 85.8 percent. This marks a slight increase from the 85.3 percent graduation rate for the class of 2018. Encouragingly, the rate of gain for most student subgroups outpaced the national average’s increase of 0.5 percentage points, helping to close equity gaps for historically underserved communities.

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Education did not release a national graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness due to missing data from one state. Cohort counts from 49 states and the District of Columbia, however, show a national graduation rate of 67.7 percent, up slightly from 67.5 percent in 2018.

The data show that graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness differ significantly state to state, ranging from a low of 49 percent in the District of Columbia and Minnesota, to a high of 86 percent in New Hampshire. The significant discrepancy of graduation rates across states bears added scrutiny.

At 67.7 percent, the graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness is among the lowest of all students in the country. Similarly, an increase of 0.2 percentage points is the smallest gains of any subgroup in the class of 2019, emphasizing the challenges students experiencing homelessness face that go above and beyond conventional poverty. To this point, the graduation rate for low-income students reached 80 percent for the first time, a rate 12.3 percentage points greater than that of students experiencing homelessness.

Importantly, this marks the final year of data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an important baseline to understand the virus’ impacts. It is likely that the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic has increased homelessness. Yet, new survey data indicate fewer students experiencing homelessness are being identified and enrolled by schools, with significant unmet needs remaining for these children and youth.

Thankfully, the recent American Rescue Plan Act provides dedicated funding to support the identification, enrollment, and full participation of students experiencing homelessness. With the right supports, these students can graduate at the same rate as their peers. Across the country, there are emerging success strategies that schools and districts can implement to better serve these students.

The Education Leads Home campaign has a goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness by 2030. While the slight increase in 2019 marks progress, the nation will have to redouble its efforts to reach this goal, especially as families and youth deal with the challenges of COVID-19. Doing so will build a more equitable education system and work to break cycles of intergenerational poverty and homelessness.

Strategies for Success: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness

Published July 2020

Strategies for Success: Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness, authored by Civic and sponsored by The Raikes Foundation, is based on interviews with educators in Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, and Virginia to identify strategies school and districts are using to successfully mitigate the challenges students experiencing homelessness face in attending and succeeding in school.

The report was written in partnership with Building Changes, a Washington State-based nonprofit, aimed at identifying replicable practices for schools on how best to meet the needs of their students experiencing homelessness. It services as an illustrative supplement to Building Changes’ Menu of Strategies, a working collection of research-based practices and recommendations to help schools and districts support students and families experiencing homelessness.

Over 1.5 million K-12 students were identified as experiencing homelessness in U.S. public schools during the 2017-18 school year. This is in addition to 1.2 million children under six-years-old who experienced homelessness in public early childhood programs in the same school year. Both of these numbers mark sizable increases over the past decade. Part of the reason for the increase may be due to schools and districts doing a better job of identifying students experiencing homelessness. Other factors, however, such as lack of affordable housing, persistent poverty, the opioid crisis, and increasing natural disasters contribute to this as well.

These millions of students experiencing homelessness are at the center of COVID-19 and systemic racism. Black and Hispanic high school students are more likely to experience homelessness than their White peers, significantly less likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to experience homelessness as adults. In addition, all students experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools provide stability and food security for many students experiencing homelessness who do not have a place to ‘shelter in place’ or ‘stay at home.’

Data shows that high school students experiencing homelessness are five times more likely to go hungry than their housed peers. Additionally, a survey conducted by SchoolHouse Connection during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic showed that “mobile hotspots” and “funds for internet access and devices/technology” were among the most pressing needs of students experiencing homelessness in K-12 and postsecondary education.

Following school closures from the pandemic, liaisons were quick to find solutions for some of these issues. One school district offered ‘pay as you go’ phones for unaccompanied youth and hot spots for McKinney-Vento students without internet access. Other school districts have instituted curbside grocery pick-up, food delivery systems, and grocery store gift cards in response to the crisis.

Encouragingly, success stories throughout the nation show that with the right support, students experiencing homelessness can graduate from high school at the same rates as their peers.

Liaisons across the country are using robust McKinney-Vento homeless education programs to develop innovative supports for these 1.5 million K-12 students experiencing homelessness in the U.S. Some of these include basic needs and academic support; district nonprofit organizations; credit recovery programs; McKinney-Vento training; housing resources; cross-system collaborations; social and emotional learning; and transportation.

For example, Treasure House, a program in Spotsylvania County Public Schools, allows McKinney-Vento-identified families to ‘shop’ for food, clothing, and household needs once a month for free. Another program, Retirees Assisting with Transitional Students (RATS) in Fairfax County Public Schools, rehired retirees to drive students experiencing homelessness to school. 

These stories and many more validate the aspirations of those on the front lines of supporting such students: 88 percent of homeless student liaisons interviewed say they are optimistic regarding the potential of youth they work with to graduate from high school college- and career-ready.

Let’s Educate Every Child and Youth: Resources for Educators, Providers, Parents, Youth, and Families Experiencing Homelessness During the Pandemic

Earlier this year, public schools and early childhood programs reported the highest number of children and youth experiencing homelessness ever recorded – 1.5 million. This number is skyrocketing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is one home that all youth and children have in common: school.

In the midst of the current crisis, the role of schools has never been more critical – no matter where classrooms are this fall. Schools are required to identify, enroll, and serve homeless children and youth, but distance learning and other COVID-related complications mean it is easier than ever for them to fall through the cracks. It’s vital that families and youth who are homeless know their educational rights, and how to exercise them. 

To help spread the word and give communities a starting place for engaging with this issue, SchoolHouse Connection announces two public service announcements aimed at reaching families, educators, and community organizations and leaders. 

Whether you are a parent or youth experiencing homelessness or someone who works with families and children, the resources on THIS page are here to help, and we hope you will share them far and wide. It will take all of us working together to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed. 

2020 Homeless Student State Snapshots

Each year, the Education Leads Home Campaign publishes Snapshots for all 50 State and the District of Columbia. The Snapshots provide the most up-to-date data on the number of homeless students identified and enrolled in public schools, the number of extremely poor children and youth experiencing homelessness, the percentage of children under the age of six experiencing homelessness, and the number of FASFA applications determined to be an unaccompanied homeless youth. These reports also show the numbers of homeless students identified in each state since 2013-14 and the high school graduation rates of all students, homeless students, and economically disadvantaged students across the state. 

Below you can find the 2020 update to your state’s snapshot. The 2020 state snapshots are based on 2017-2018 data, which are the most recent available. Education Leads Home will continue to monitor states’ progress and identify and share best practices to improve student outcomes in communities across the country. This data will allow experts and policymakers to understand the scale and context of their state’s student homelessness population and locally tailor policies to support their unique population.

Homeless State Snapshots

Collaborating for Academic Success: The State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project

On July 22 and 23, Education Leads Home (ELH) hosted the six state grantee teams of the State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project in Tacoma, Washington for its first-ever in-person convening. Practitioners from state education agencies, school districts, higher education institutions, nonprofits, and early childhood education programs from Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Kentucky gathered at the University of Washington-Tacoma to learn from one another and share out on their work to date.

Since the fall of 2018, ELH’s State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project has brought together dedicated professionals from around the country to take action toward overcoming child and youth homelessness through education, resulting in measurable progress toward one or more of the three ELH goals:

  • Reaching equitable participation in quality early childhood programs for young children experiencing homelessness;
  • Increasing high school graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness;
  • Increasing postsecondary attainment of young people experiencing homelessness;

These six state teams have researched and begun implementation of new approaches to address the most urgent needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness in their respective communities, creating an innovative and collaborative “learning lab” of best practices that will promote educational achievement and help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Project content areas range widely, including improving access to early childhood education programs, growing existing host home programs to facilitate high school graduation, and increasing Title I set-aside funding to support the academic success of homeless students.

The two-day convening kicked off with a discussion about the vision and scope of the ELH campaign and how each project is representative of and integrated into ELH’s long-term objectives. Teams then had ample time to both reflect and strategize internally and to problem-solve across state lines, sharing what has worked and—just as importantly—what hasn’t worked in their respective efforts to support some of the country’s most invisible children and youth.

Katara Jordan from Building Changes in Washington State shared that, “Our populations [children and families experiencing homelessness] are often hidden. To support students experiencing homelessness in Washington State, the state legislature established a statewide workgroup to develop a plan for students experiencing foster care and homelessness to help them reach educational equity with their general student population peers by 2027. The great thing about the work group is that state agencies and nonprofits are both at the table and committed to following through on implementing the plan.” She continued, “At every single level, every person is a policymaker, which is why it’s important to have government and nonprofit organizations at the table. The only way to do this work is to ensure systems are working together in meaningful and concrete ways. I don’t think it’s possible if you’re operating in silos.”

Despite the differences in goals addressed, teams reported that they benefited tremendously from the opportunity to connect with one another in person and meaningfully reflect on their accomplishments, unanticipated barriers and challenges, and plans for sustainability. “That was one of the best and most diverse conversations I’ve had at a work-related convening,” noted Jordana Ferreira from Early Childhood Action Strategy in Hawaii.

The ELH team extends special thanks EducationCounsel for their unparalleled support in the strategic planning of and facilitating this inaugural convening.  

We look forward to supporting each state team and facilitating cross-state learning in the weeks and months ahead.

Education Leads Home State Partnerships on Student Homelessness Project

Education Leads Home’s State Partnerships on Student Homelessness bring together governors’ offices, housing providers, educators and community organizations from around the country to take action toward overcoming child and youth homelessness through education. Through these dynamic partnerships, each state team will research and implement new approaches to address the most urgent needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness in their state. The State Partnerships on Student Homelessness are a nonpartisan initiative to promote proven, effective practices and policies that can be replicated by communities and states nationwide.

In this inaugural year of its State Partnerships, Education Leads Home (ELH) awarded grants to six states — California, Kentucky, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington — through a competitive process. ELH will provide ongoing support to maximize the Partnerships’ impact in those six states and across the nation.

By working directly with state leaders to develop and implement strategic action plans, and creating an innovative and collaborative “learning lab” of best practices from birth through postsecondary education, ELH’s State Partnerships will promote educational achievement and help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

State Partnership goals include:

  • improving access to high-quality early childhood education;
  • expanding existing host home programs for unaccompanied youth;
  • piloting school-housing partnerships to facilitate high school graduation;
  • improving the use of existing federal funding to increase state-level staffing capacity and local supports for students experiencing homelessness; and improving state policies and practices to address challenges including chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, and high school credit accrual.

State-specific summaries may be found below.

California: California’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor, the California Department of Education, and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles, will explore not only where students experiencing homeless are, but also what types of school-related services are being provided to students and their families. The state plans to use this landscape analysis to devise and implement a more coordinated and comprehensive strategy for ensuring prevention and support efforts serve the academic, social, emotional, and health needs of students experiencing homelessness, from birth to career.

Hawaii: Hawaii’s grantee team is co-led by the Office of the Governor, the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, and the Executive Office on Early Learning/Hawaii Head Start Collaboration Office, and includes representatives from the Hawaii Departments of Education and Health, the University of Hawaii Center on the Family, PATCH Hawaii, and Ka Pa‘alana Homeless Family Education Program. The project will help operationalize and support a recently-developed Hawaii Early Childhood State Plan to increase the enrollment of young children experiencing homelessness in early care and education programs and services within their communities and to support their healthy growth and development. Activities are designed to assess barriers to enrolling children into programs, incentivize early care and education providers to enroll more homeless children, encourage shelter providers to support this endeavor, and increase access to and use of childcare subsidies by families experiencing homelessness.

Kentucky: Kentucky’s grantee team is co-led by the Office of the Governor, Erlanger-Elsmere School District, and Covington Independent Public School District, with support from the Kentucky Housing Corporation, Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, and Brighton Center. The team will support increased capacity for and the development of training initiatives for regional businesses and other community partners to improve identification of students experiencing homelessness and provide them with trauma-informed services. The team will also will provide one-time homelessness prevention supports to at-risk families identified by the schools, including utility assistance payments, rental application fees, security deposits, and short-term rent or mortgage assistance.

Nevada: Nevada’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor and the Nevada Department of Education, aims to help school districts strategically budget their Title I set-aside dollars to enhance the support they provide for students experiencing homelessness. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, all local educational agencies that receive Title I Part A funds must reserve funds to support homeless students. The team also will create state-level guidance and procedures to reduce chronic absenteeism and dropout rates, and increase graduation rates, of young people experiencing homelessness.

Oregon: Oregon’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor, the Departments of Education and Human Services, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, seeks to significantly improve the high school success of unaccompanied homeless students by helping communities replicate Second Home, a successful host home model that partners with school districts and mediators from a community-based dispute resolution center. The team will increase programmatic awareness, solicit host home volunteers, and rally financial support throughout the state, with the ultimate goal of connecting eligible students with family hosts and increasing collaboration among schools, housing providers, and community-based organizations. The current Second Home program has enabled its students to earn a 96% graduation rate, while the overall four-year graduation rate for homeless students in that same district is only 49%.

Washington State: Washington’s grantee team, co-led by the Office of the Governor and Building Changes, will research and evaluate the state’s early learning policies to promote the participation of young children experiencing homelessness in early learning programs. As part of this process, the team will partner with the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP (the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program) to convene a stakeholder meeting and distribute surveys to early learning and housing providers across the state. These activities and additional research will culminate in a policy analysis and recommendations to support young children and their families experiencing homelessness.

For more information on the SPP project or ELH, please contact Katie Brown, ELH Program Manager, at katie@schoolhouseconnection.org.


Deutsche Bank
Raikes Foundation
The California Wellness Foundation
Education Counsel

Education Leads Home Releases Homeless Student State Snapshots

Twenty-six states share high school graduation rates for homeless students that reveal educational challenges above and beyond poverty alone.

Line graph showing a steadily rising number of homeless students from 800,000 in 2016 to 1,355,821 in 2017
Bar charts for 44 states showing graduation rates for all students, economically disadvantaged students, and homeless students.

State-level data shows that homeless students graduate on time at significantly lower rates than their housed peers. In fact, data from the National Center for Homeless Education1 released this week found a national average graduation rate of just 64 percent for homeless students, as compared to the low-income rate of 77.6 percent, and 84.1 percent for all students.

These gaps reflect the significant educational challenges – above and beyond poverty – that homeless students face. We can and must do more to remove these barriers. Students cannot afford to miss out on the critical first step of a high school diploma due to homelessness.

Erin Ingram, Senior Policy Advisor, CIVIC

One of the Education Leads Home campaign goals is to raise the graduation rate for homeless students to 90 percent by 2030. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are now required to disaggregate graduation rates for homeless students and will be required to share 2017-2018 graduation rates for homeless students next year. Among the 26 states that have shared graduation rates for homeless students with Education Leads Home, the lowest rate is just 45 percent.

In addition, this year marks the highest number of homeless students enrolled in public schools on record. This increase may be due in part to improved school identification of homeless students, a positive first step, since those students will be more likely to access the supports they need if identified. Armed with an arguably more accurate understanding of the breadth and depth of student needs, states reporting higher numbers of homeless students or lower graduation rates are well positioned to be acutely responsive with targeted services, policies, and practices.

Homelessness among students is more than just a housing problem. It impacts every aspect of a child’s life. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and establishing economic mobility. It’s the only way we can prevent today’s homeless children and youth from becoming the next generation of homeless adults. The good news is that we have strong policy on the books that many school districts are implementing robustly; we can and should learn from and replicate these best practices.

Barbara Duffield, Executive Director, SchoolHouse Connection

State Report Cards


  1. Refine and standardize systems for identifying homeless students in school
  2. Actively work with students to help them stay in school. Examples include:
    • Be more flexible with policies around attendance and timelines for assignments;
    • Assist students as they work through challenges in transfers of test scores and transcripts;
    • Help students navigate legal issues around obtaining parental consent to re-enroll or participate in school activities
  3. Actively work to connect homeless students to outside supports, such as housing organizations, mental and physical health providers, mentoring groups, and extracurricular activities.
  4. Work to ensure ESSA is fully implemented, including removing the barriers to access as required by law, and educating school staff on the requirements of McKinney-Vento under ESSA.


Students experiencing homelessness are 87 percent2 more likely to drop out of school than their housed peers; without a high school diploma, youth are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness3 later in life.

Furthermore, more than 95 percent of jobs created during the economic recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind. Research continues to support the imperative of actively addressing the educational needs of homeless students to help break the cycle of poverty.

As ESSA is implemented, Education Leads Home will continue to monitor states’ progress and identify and share best practices to improve student outcomes in communities across the country. This data will allow experts and policymakers to assess the need for improved policies and targeted resources to keep students on track to graduate.

Media Kit

Media Contacts

Matt Atwell, CIVIC, matwell@civicenterprises.net

Barbara Duffield, SchoolHouse Connection, barbara@schoolhouseconnection.org


  1. https://nche.ed.gov/
  2. http://www.americaspromise.org/report/hidden-plain-sight
  3. http://voicesofyouthcount.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/ChapinHall_VoYC_NationalReport_Final.pdf


Deutsche Bank
Raikes Foundation
The California Wellness Foundation
Education Counsel