After-school programs connected with public housing could expand if a bill introduced in December by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state passes Congress.
Murray’s legislation would incentivize partnerships between school districts and housing authorities to reduce housing instability and improve educational outcomes for housing-insecure kids. Community-based organizations could also take part.
The AHEAD Act, or Affordable Housing for Educational Achievement Demonstration Act, would provide $150 million in grants through the U.S. Department of Education. The goal is to coordinate the work of schools and public housing.
“The cross-sector work is important,” said Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), “Housing instability affects learning.”
More than one-third of low-income youth either live in public housing or receive some type of federal housing assistance, according to a report by the nonprofit Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC).
Compared with all U.S. children, these children have worse health, greater educational barriers and a greater risk of homelessness, according to the report.
Research shows that educational outcomes are better when parents are involved in education. when kids have access to supports such as health care and meal programs and when their school attendance is good, the report said.
Under the AHEAD Act, a housing authority could, for example, get funds to hire an education coordinator to run after-school or mentoring programs or connect residents to support services.
Two-year grants would be available for plan services and five-year grants would be available to implement them.
The vision is based on several programs in Washington state that connect the dots between housing and education.
“They began a partnership with school systems,” Zaterman said of the housing authorities. Their data-sharing identified households that were served by both the school and the housing authority. They then identified issues around absenteeism, grade level reading and attendance, she said.
In one example, the Tacoma (Wash.) Housing Authority, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, partnered with McCarver Elementary School to provide assistance to 50 homeless families. The children of these families made up one-fifth of the school population. The families received rental assistance and agreed to take an active part in their children’s schooling via parent-teacher conferences, homework help and ensuring school attendance. Two case managers helped connect families to a variety of services.
After a year, the percentage of kids’ reading at grade level nearly doubled, student transiency was reduced and families made gains in financial stability, according to a 2017 outside evaluation.
In another example, the Vancouver (Wash.) Housing Authority established an on-site after-school program run by the Boys & Girls Club.
Housing authorities who are members of CLPHA “have been working on this cross-sector work for about five years,” Zaterman said.
“This [legislation] should be the wave of the future,” she said. “These systems and leaders need seed money.”