In Focus: Youth of Color

Jul 27, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Homeless Students Gain Their Education While Navigating Challenges

By Del Smith

Earlier this summer, SchoolHouse Connection hosted “Voices of Youth: A Discussion on Education, Resilience, Homelessness, and Hope” in partnership with Senators Patty Murray and Lisa Murkowski. The briefing spotlighted the 1.3 million homeless students enrolled in public K-12 or postsecondary education.

“Voices of Youth” featured 11 young adults who were homeless during their school years and who are currently attending (or recently graduated from) college. The discussion covered many important topics, including economic insecurity, family trauma, barriers to college success, and mental health battles. Additionally, panelists recommended policy solutions based on their lived experiences.  

Among many obstacles, students discussed missing school to take care of their younger siblings because their parents had to work. They also highlighted immigrant students’ barriers to accessing benefits and services. Finding housing and securing financial aid are also challenging for homeless young people. Several panelists said it was hard to prove they were homeless when applying for financial aid. Homelessness also affects their ability to get an apartment or car. Even when students are employed and can afford to make payments, lenders want co-signers to be ensured the debt will be repaid. Typically, a co-signer is a parent or legal guardian; however, homeless students are often independent or have parents who won’t co-sign.

Mental health was another important topic. Students said they were often told to forget about past traumas, invalidating their experiences. In comparison to housed teens, homeless teens have dramatically worse health outcomes. In one study, over 20 percent of students living in poverty experienced some form of mental illness within the last year. Further, homeless teens are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. These challenges are compounded by students’ struggle to afford health care. Oftentimes, they have to rely on student health offices, which provide quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.

Students also highlighted the importance of outreach. Low awareness can minimize the impact of even the best policies.  To address that issue, panelists recommended that every college and university have a homeless liaison to help students make the most of their college experience. Typically, liaisons are former homeless students who now work closely with organizations fighting to end student homelessness. 

Current federal policy proposals threaten homeless youths’ access to housing, health care, and other support services. The president’s FY 2018 budget would cut over $200 billion from SNAP and TANF over the next decade. It would also cut $600 billion from Medicaid, another crucial support for youth. These proposals demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about homeless youth’s needs as well as our country’s future.

In today’s difficult political landscape, the briefing served as an important reminder to policymakers and advocates: in order to help homeless students, we must first understand their experiences.


Jun 5, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Go-Throughs to Get Through: New report and infographics foreground the mental health experiences of young adults living in poverty

Young adults living in poverty face high exposure to “go throughs”: lived experiences of structural disadvantage and trauma with lasting implications for educational, economic, and other life outcomes. They frequently “get through” these challenges without formal mental health supports, relying on community-based programs and peer networks to cope with their experiences.

“Everybody Got Their Go Throughs”: Young Adults on the Frontlines of Mental Health summarizes findings from focus groups and analysis of data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The accompanying infographics visually represent young adults’ understanding of mental health and provide an overview of the national data included in the report.

The report’s major findings are a call to action, underlining the importance of an assets-based approach to mental health supports for youth and young adults. Such an approach recognizes and validates strengths, resilience, and young adults’ drive to fully achieve their education, employment, and life goals.

In the context of the current federal health care fight, “Everybody Got Their Go Throughs” highlights the racial and economic justice implications of the Medicaid expansion and full implementation of the mental health parity and prevention provisions of the Affordable Care Act for low-income young adults. Beyond the current political moment, the report also outlines a set of principles for framing mental health policy and practice.

Read the Report

Go-Throughs to Get Through: Mental Health Defined Infographic

Go-Throughs to Get Through: Low-income Young Adults and Mental Health Infographic 


May 25, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Trump’s Education Budget: More Inequality, Less Access for Low-Income Students

Response to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education

By Lauren Walizer and Kisha Bird

The U.S. Department of Education (ED)’s FY 2018 budget proposal would cut billions of dollars from programs that help low-income students succeed in secondary and postsecondary education.  Meanwhile, school choice programs would receive dramatic increases.

Since the passage of landmark civil rights and anti-poverty laws, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Higher Education Act, the federal Department of Education has worked to ensure all students have access to quality education and equitable resources, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender, or ability.  Elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education are primarily funded by state, local, and private sources, but ED plays a critical role in enforcing civil rights, targeting resources to low-income students, and reducing opportunity gaps.

The Department’s budget would undermine this fundamental role, making deep cuts to financial aid programs that help low-income students access postsecondary education. Funding would be slashed by $5.2 billion, including $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant program. As more and more employers require education and training beyond high school, the employment landscape has become increasingly challenging for low-income students. They need postsecondary training but are increasingly less able to afford it.

In 2011-12, 57 percent of Black community college students received Pell grants; however, 82 percent had unmet financial need of $5,000 on average. Three-quarters of students from Asian, Hispanic, and Native populations also had remaining unmet need. With this budget, ED would dig a deeper hole for financially vulnerable students and subvert its responsibility to provide access to opportunity.

The $3.9 billion Pell cut was only made possible by harmful eligibility reductions passed in 2012. The budget would compound this mistake by eliminating Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) ($733 million), which overwhelmingly supports Pell Grant recipients, and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from Work-Study (from $989 million to $500 million). ED claims that SEOG is not “well targeted”; however, this conflicts with the budget’s proposed reform to update the formula through which Work-Study is awarded, considering they use the same formula to distribute aid.

The budget would eliminate or drastically reduce investments that provide services to youth as well as prepare low-income students for postsecondary education.  That includes eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. 21CCLC provides critical before-school, after-school, and summer programs for low-income children and youth. This would undercut more than one million children and their parents. The Trump Administration has claimed the program is not effective; however, there is strong evidence that quality afterschool programs help children and youth become more engaged in school, raise their academic performance, and remain safe during non-school hours. The budget would also reduce Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergrad Programs (GEAR UP) by more than a third and federal TRIO funding by 15 percent. These are critical programs that help prepare low-income youth and nontraditional students for postsecondary education and provide services to help them succeed.

The budget’s increased investments in school choice programs ignore the systemic issues facing America’s public schools. It calls for an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs, including $1 billion for Title I, $250 million for a new private school choice program, and $168 million for charter schools. The title I funding is designed to support increased school choice options by encouraging districts to adopt a system of student-based budgeting and open enrollment.

ED’s budget proposal claims it will “place power in the hands of parents and families” by investing more in school choice programs.  However, these policies would help only a select group of students— leaving out the vast majority of low-income students who attend title I schools. Moreover, the budget would rip away postsecondary opportunities by eliminating funding that already falls short of meeting low-income students’ needs.  Families and students should not have to choose between having a safe place to learn afterschool and in the summer, a quality education, or whether they will be able to access and complete postsecondary education without crushing student loan debt.

CLASP urges Congress to reject this budget to prevent increased inequality and social immobility for low-income students.

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