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State to receive funds for homeless students

In this file photo, New Mexico Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart speaks to students during a visit to Lake Arthur High School in February. (Daily Record Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

New Mexico will receive $6.4 million in federal funds to help public school students experiencing homelessness, state officials have announced.

Chaves County public schools last counted about 139 homeless students this March, but federal officials indicate that part of the concern is that children with needs are not being identified because they have not been participating in school during the pandemic.

The first portion of the state money, 25%, or $1.6 million, is in the process of being sent to the New Mexico Public Education Department by the U.S. Department of Education.

The remaining 75%, or $4.8 million, will be available as soon as June, once the U.S. Department of Education makes the necessary changes to its subgrant processes and the Public Education Department submits its plan for using and distributing the money.

The funds are part of the $800 million provided by the American Rescue Plan signed into law in March that is specifically intended to help identify and assist homeless children and youth and support them in their school activities, including summer programs and enrichment learning activities.

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The federal agency will retain $1 million of the funding for providing technical assistance and will disburse the remainder. The New Mexico Public Education Department plans to keep no more than 25% of the $1.6 million for state-level training, technical assistance and coordination with local education agencies.

“This is a wonderful new asset to help meet students’ most basic needs so they can succeed academically despite their families’ current housing situation,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “Every child should be able to participate fully in their education no matter the barriers. Congress recognized that when it appropriated this money to help our neediest students.”

The Department of Education stated in an April 23 letter to state officials that the COVID-19 crisis has meant more homeless students are unknown to school districts and, therefore, are underserved.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students experiencing homelessness are increasingly under-identified, as learning outside of school building settings may have impeded the critical role of educators and staff in schools and districts to properly identify students, and these students have remained underserved by schools, districts and states,” wrote Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

His letter also referred to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports indicating that homeless students and families are at greater risk of COVID-19 diagnoses and worse outcomes if they become infected.

According to the state, the $1.6 million it will receive soon will meet urgent needs and will supplement the $793,000 that the state already received this year from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

Cardona’s letter indicated that school districts could work with community organizations to reach youth outside of the school system.

The funds can be used for such items as emergency or temporary housing; “wraparound services” defined as mental and emotional health services, trauma care or academic support; personal supplies such as protective equipment, eyeglasses, school supplies and personal care items; transportation; cellphones and technological devices needed for learning; internet equipment; and prepaid store cards used to pay for school materials.

The Public Education Department indicates that about 6,573 students in the state are counted as homeless. During a March 2021 “snapshot audit,” there were 74 homeless students counted by the Roswell Independent School District, which includes Sidney Gutierrez charter school, while Dexter Consolidated Schools District had 65. No homeless students were counted by the other two districts in the county, Hagerman Municipal Schools and Lake Arthur Municipal Schools.

State officials indicated they are still working to determine the amounts that each district will receive, but said the $1.6 million will be distributed to districts using the same formula that determined allocations of the McKinney-Vento funds.

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