Nov 15 2017
Education has long been called the great equalizer in our country. At one point or another, most of us were probably told that if we studied hard enough and stayed in school, we'd be successful in life. As tired as this sounds, it's generally proven to be true.
Numerous studies and data show that education - whether that be career and technical training, or a four-year degree - can provide for a better future. In short, education is power.
For example, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that an American without a high school diploma has a median weekly income of only $504. Compare this to $819 for her neighbor with an associate's degree, $1,156 with a bachelor's degree, and $1,380 for a master's.
Shorter-term credentials can be at least as valuable as bachelor's degrees. Research also shows that graduates with technical or applied science associate degrees can out-earn non-bachelor's-degree holders.
Americans with higher educational attainment rates are less likely to be unemployed, incarcerated, or suffer from poor health outcomes.
The point is, advice and guidance to kindergarten-through-12th-grade students from a school counselor familiar with their interests can help shape their futures. We just need to make sure these students have access to this guidance.
Yet while education undisputedly has a role in one's success in life, there still remain unnecessary barriers to educational opportunities for many Americans, notably the 1.26 million homeless students enrolled in public schools during the 2014-2015 school year, the most up-to-date numbers available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
In a survey conducted by Civic Enterprises and Hart Research Associates, researchers found that 68 percent of homeless students said homelessness made it hard to succeed in school, and 42 percent said they had dropped out of school at least once. In spite of the adverse conditions facing them, nearly three out of every four still desired to complete their high school education and pursue a career. However, when questioned about the academic support available to them and assistance with college preparation, less than 50 percent felt their schools were adequately helping them.
This assessment of their situation should be no surprise. While the American School Counselors Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1, the ratio in low-income schools, which most homeless students attend, averages 1,000:1.
Further exacerbating the problem are the many competing responsibilities of school counselors. By the time the average public school counselor deals with everything but college and career counseling, only about one-fourth of their time is left.
If we are to keep homeless students in school and adequately prepare them for life after high school, then things have to change. That is why I, along with U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer, Steve Stivers, and Seth Moulton, have introduced the Preparing Homeless Youth for Education and Employment Act to make some simple, commonsense reforms to the way we approach homeless education.
Currently, the federal government administers the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, which provides funding to states, and by extension local school districts, to support services and activities that facilitate the enrollment, attendance, and success of homeless students in school.
The program, which enjoyed a 10 percent boost to its $70 million budget beginning in Fiscal Year 2017, outlines strict parameters for use of funding, and, surprisingly, none of the activities authorized by the program focuses on setting up students for success after high school.
Our bill would permit funding from this program to go toward providing dropout prevention services and college and career counseling to homeless youth.
These services can take a number of forms. Schools could now use program funding to advise students on the credits needed to graduate high school and get into college. Schools could also use funding to counsel students on navigating the financial aid and scholarship processes. To help those students who feel like college might not be for them and instead want to go directly into the workforce or a career program, funding could be used to help them develop employability skills and explore other post-secondary education opportunities. Additionally, if schools don't have adequate staffing to provide dropout prevention and college and career counseling services, they could use funding to hire an additional counselor and provide students with more face-time with someone trained to help them plan out and realize their goals.
I am proud of this legislation. Coming from a low-income background and as the first in my family to go to college, I know the impact school can have on a person's success in life. It helped me achieve my dreams and provide a better life for my children than I had growing up. Assisting those less fortunate than us and putting them on the path to success is at the heart of our nation, and I am fortunate to have an opportunity such as this to make an impact.