Child advocates say NYC Education Department’s plan to support homeless children falls short – New York Daily News

Advocates for New York City’s homeless students say the city’s Department of Education’s initial proposal to spend millions of federal stimulus dollars doesn’t go far enough to address ‘abysmal’ attendance rates students living in shelters.

The city must submit its plan to allocate $24 million in federal stimulus dollars for homeless students to the state by the end of the month, and advocates have pushed the city to spend a big chunk on hire 100 additional employees to work in shelters helping families with attendance difficulties. The city has already pledged to hire 50 of those employees with an earlier pot of federal money.

But in initial plans presented to advocates, the DOE did not commit to hiring the requested 100 shelter staff, instead offering a range of other initiatives, which advocates say won’t actually go ahead. at the root of the problem.

“The administration’s current proposal to spend millions of dollars in federal funding does not address the most fundamental problem, which is that children in shelters aren’t going to school in the first place,” Jennifer Pringle said. , director of Advocates for Children’s Learners in Temporary Housing Project. .

The roughly 28,000 city students who spend time in one of the city’s 200 homeless family shelters in any given year have long struggled to attend school, and the situation is getting worse. is aggravated during the pandemic. Students living in shelters saw an average attendance of 77% last year, compared to 90% for students in permanent housing. This number increased slightly, to 79%, in October 2021, the last month for which figures were available – 11 points lower than students in stable housing.

Advocates say families in shelters often face an array of logistical and bureaucratic challenges – including arranging transport for long journeys – that make it particularly difficult to get their children to school each day. .

“For about four to five months my son was out of school,” said Comfort Mensah, a Bronx mother who was forced to move into a shelter with her 3-year-old son Gabriel after losing his apartment in December 2020. The boy applied for a specialized program to accommodate his learning disability, and Mensah struggled to reach anyone at the Department of Education who could help him find one near the refuge.

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“It was very frustrating and overwhelming. You feel like you just want to give up,” she said. “It would have been very helpful” to have a dedicated member of staff from the education department directly in the shelter to help, she added.

In a letter earlier this month, dozens of advocacy groups urged the department to use some of its federal money to hire 100 additional “community coordinators” to work in the shelters – a request echoed by some council members municipal.

But in a draft plan shared earlier this month, DOE officials did not plan to hire the additional shelter staff. It included a proposal to expand access to a sophisticated attendance-tracking platform to all family shelters in the city, as well as plans to expand after-school programming and reading support at the shelters, according to a version of the presentation seen by the Daily News.

Lawyers say this is insufficient.

“More tools and pilot programs without investment in staff are doomed to fail,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United, adding that workers at existing shelters already have too much to do.

Education Department officials stressed that the one-time federal injection cannot fund salaries indefinitely and that the agency already has 117 other staff spread across shelters.

“We are intentional with all funds to avoid making long-term commitments with short-term resources and continue to work to remove barriers to success in the lives of our most vulnerable students,” the gatekeeper said. word of the Ministry of Education, Suzan Sumer.

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