School officials unclear on lack of homeless grant

School officials unclear on lack of homeless grant

PAWTUCKET – School officials say they have been unable to determine why the local school district was again left out of a late October grant award to support local homeless students. Housing advocates recently estimated that there are 68 homeless students in Pawtucket currently.

Interim Supt. Cheryl McWilliams said administrators reached out to the Rhode Island Department of Education after an inquiry from The Breeze about the lack of a grant this year, but were still unclear on the reasoning.

McWilliams said the district filled out the application for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Education for Homeless Children and Youth grant in August. She theorized that the district might not have won the award because its percentage of homeless students is under 1 percent. Certainly “any homelessness isn’t good,” she said, but some other districts do have higher percentages than that.

The one grant-winning district that stuck out to her as a bit surprising on the list of eight recipients was West Warwick, said McWilliams.

The eight districts winning a total of $331,801 were: Central Falls, with $41,899; Middletown, with $44,572; Newport, with $45,000; North Kingstown, with $37,240; Providence, with $45,000; Warwick, with $31,138; West Warwick, with $41,951; and Woonsocket, with $45,000.

Pawtucket was the only one of state’s five urban core communities (Providence, Newport, Woonsocket and Central Falls) not to receive the grant. Warwick and West Warwick are both urban ring communities, while North Kingstown is classified as a suburban district.

The winners last year, sharing $251,000, were Middletown, Newport, North Kingstown, Warwick, and Woonsocket.

Meg Geoghegan, communications director for RIDE, said the funds awarded were part of a competitive grant process that takes the number of homeless students into consideration but is also heavily focused on the quality of programming proposed by the district for homeless students.

“It’s important to note that districts have other funding available to support homeless students, such as required reservations of Title IA funds to support homeless students,” she said.

The McKinney Vento sub-grants are meant to support programs and initiatives above and beyond what is already required under the McKinney-Vento law, she said.

The subgrants, federally funded and administered by the state, are renewable for up to three years. Each winning application had to demonstrate a well-developed project that facilitates the enrollment, attendance, and success in school of homeless students. The projects had to show that they provide temporary, special, and supplementary services to meet the unique needs of homeless students.

“Homeless students are among our most vulnerable populations, and the challenges that these students face impact their academic, physical, and social emotional well-being,” said Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green. “There are many ways that we can and must support students and families facing homelessness, and McKinney-Vento grants are an important resource that help us drive that work.”

Other factors considered in McKinney-Vento grant applications are the involvement of parents or guardians in the education of their children, the extent to which homeless students will be integrated within the regular education program, and coordination with other agencies and organizations that serve homeless students, states a release.