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HomeTop NewsDOE’s pricey data portal for homeless students doesn’t solve concerning attendance issue: critics

DOE’s pricey data portal for homeless students doesn’t solve concerning attendance issue: critics


New York City’s Department of Education is facing criticism over plans to help homeless students by spending millions to expand a “sophisticated” data portal to shelters — without the staff who know how to use it. The nonprofit Advocates for Children (AFC) released a report Wednesday calling out the DOE over the plan to spend federal funds on the portal and other new online tools.

The Administration’s current proposal for spending millions in federal funding does not address the most fundamental problem, which is that children in shelters are not getting to school in the first place,” said Jennifer Pringle, director of AFC’s Learners in Temporary Housing Project. Data from the group highlights that kids living in shelters are having a much harder time making it to class this school year than students with stable housing, at an attendance rate of 78.9% compared to 90%. That rate is not much better than last school year’s numbers, which hovered around 77.0% in 2020-21 — despite the return to classrooms this fall, and the better access to school resources that came with it. The gap is also wider than seen pre-pandemic, according to the report. Advocates said the DOE should be spending the cash to invest in staff needed to actually address the barriers these students face to get to school.

That requires on-site support,” said Pringle. “It’s not robotic calls, it’s not emails that turn this around.” “I have no doubt that it is a robust portal. The problem is if there’s no one in a position to use that information, it’s a waste of money.” The nonprofit partnered with two shelters this year, using attendance data to identify struggling students and problem-solve with the DOE and shelter-based staff on solid plans for each kid. “We identified a first grader who was not regularly attending school because her parent, who uses a manual wheelchair, was having difficulty getting her daughter to the bus stop several blocks away on a steep hill, especially in bad weather,” read the report.

We requested that the DOE move the bus stop closer to the shelter, which the DOE did, and now the student is regularly attending school.” AFC, alongside more than 30 organizations and the City Council, have been calling on the DOE to hire 150 staffers to work in the shelters to help students living there get to school. So far, the city has enlisted 50 workers. More than 100,000 public school students were homeless last school year — including a third that lived in New York City shelters. The DOE has until the end of the month to submit plans to the state for $24 million in federal dollars — part of a larger sum of $33 million earmarked for homeless students in pandemic recovery funds.

We are being intentional with all funds to avoid making long term commitments with short term resources and continue to work towards removing barriers to success in the lives of our most vulnerable students,” said Suzan Sumer, a spokesperson for the DOE. “Our schools have the power to positively shape the lives of all students living in temporary housing and provide them with necessary comprehensive students supports, such as trauma-informed care from trained school staff members, and access to a 500-member-strong-network of school-based social workers and guidance counselors.

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