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I-TEAM: Where is the money going in Richmond County schools for homeless students?

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 7:20 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Two years of warning signs. Two years of an accelerating need. Two years of emergency relief funds-more than $186 million.

Only now, after an I-TEAM investigation and a recent supplemental grant from the state, has the Richmond County Board of Education agreed to provide additional funds to address the growing needs among homeless students and the record number of teens missing from the classroom.

But the I-TEAM uncovered the district knew they needed additional resources to help with the growing homeless population within the school system - even before identifying more than 900 students as homeless last school year. Now, a record-breaking number of high school students are missing from the classroom as resources finally began to trickle down from the district.

Homeless students stuck in learning limbo. We’ve shown you the families with young children with no way to get to school. No bus or taxi and no home to learn from for remote learning since they are homeless.

The ITEAM was there at the very first board of education meeting following our investigation uncovering homeless students struggling to get to school. We also uncovered a record-breaking number of high school students missing from Richmond County classrooms.

Elected school officials took action and agreed to provide funds to get homeless students to school.

This grant would allow us to purchase a van, not 15 passengers I think eight passengers at a time so if we could get a driver that would help our transportation department not to totally reroute in order to make those transitions in transporting those students like you just mentioned.

The $349,000 homeless children and youth grant- is part of the American Rescue Plan also known as ARP.

Does not replace ARP funds to support the needs of students experiencing homelessness. The I-TEAM asked Dr. Aronica Gloster about the grant money weeks before the board of education meeting.

Liz: “If you had 900 homeless students last year then I would think some of the grant proposals would target that population.”

Gloster: “You mean in general with the ARP.”

Liz: “With the ARP grant?”

Gloster: “And we do we are waiting for the most recent funding for specifically for homelessness and transportation is one of the major concerns there and funding to get an additional social worker specifically focused on homeless students.”

But the I-TEAM found the $349,000 homeless children and youth grant is a drop in the bucket compared to the total funds the state of Georgia has awarded to the Richmond County District over the last two years.

That includes nearly $117 million under the American Rescue Plan and another $51 million under other federal covid funding. Millions more in other relief funds.

Altogether the state has approved more than 186 million for the Richmond County School District.

Nearly $200 million that the state school Superintendent clearly outlines are to help at-risk populations like the more than 900 students the district identified as homeless last school year in Augusta.

Documents obtained by the I-TEAM from the Georgia Department of Education show district leaders knew they needed additional resources to serve the growing number of homeless students even before the pandemic began.

The I-TEAM obtained an internal needs assessment district report for the 2020-2021 school year which came out just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and shut down schools. In that report, listed under challenges it reads:

“Under-identified homeless students … inaccurate data entry… increased need for outreach and a lack of funding to identify and assist homeless families efficiently and effectively. Additional staff is needed … bus driver shortages increase the amount of time it takes to have a route assigned. Interim cab far is very costly.”

Only now, two years later, amidst a housing and homeless crisis and our I-TEAM investigation is the board allocating funds to bridge the gap from extra funding revenue streams rather than from the near two hundred million the district was already awarded from the state to help homeless kids in Richmond County.

This is our third investigation produced as a project for the USC Annenberg Center  2021 data fellowship. We are still digging through the data, and we will bring you our findings in the coming weeks.

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