Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst, before the Committee of the Whole

June 26, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. I’m Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst at DC Action. We use research, data, collective action, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. DC Action is home to the Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, which advocates for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. My testimony today will focus on the relationship between youth homelessness and truancy and the importance of providing support to youth experiencing homelessness to ensure they are able to access the education to which they are entitled.

I would like to commend the Council for addressing truancy in these bills, as education is essential for individuals to attain housing stability and financial independence. Truancy and homelessness are closely linked–both contributing to a cycle of instability and educational disruption. Homeless students often face significant challenges in maintaining regular school attendance because of frequent relocations, lack of transportation, and the need to prioritize basic survival over education. Irregular attendance can lead to academic underperformance, social isolation, and increased dropout rates. Solving the District’s truancy crisis requires the Council to implement comprehensive policies to provide robust support systems for homeless students, ensuring access to stable housing, transportation, and tailored educational resources. By prioritizing these measures, the Council can help break the cycle of truancy and homelessness, promoting better educational outcomes and long-term stability for affected students.

Following are recommendations for each bill under consideration today.

The Truancy Reduction for Student Success Act of 2024 requires OSSE to publish monthly data on absenteeism on its website. We recommend amending this bill to require disaggregation of truancy data by certain populations, including: youth experiencing homelessness and housing stability, pregnant and parenting youth, and youth involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. Breaking down truancy data into these categories enables policymakers, educators, and advocates to identify patterns and effectively target interventions. This granular approach addresses the root causes of truancy in each group and ensures appropriate allocations of resources and services.

We support the Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy Reduction Amendment Act of 2024, but recommend a minor amendment in the subsection requiring schools to meet and intervene with a student after accruing five unexcused absences in a marking period before referring the student to the Child and Family Services Agency or the Office of the Attorney General. This provision must be amended to specify a clear timeline for the intervention to occur after the five unexcused absences are accrued. Without a defined timeframe, schools might delay the intervention process, leading to prolonged periods of absenteeism without appropriate support. We recommend that the bill specify what constitutes an effective intervention, or provides guidelines on the nature and follow-up of the intervention, to prevent inconsistent and potentially ineffective practices across different schools. The current lack of specificity in the language could undermine the policy’s goal of timely and effective truancy intervention.

The Showing Up for Students Amendment Act of 2024 includes important requirements, but also contains areas that require further clarification. For example: 

  • The phrase “specific or presumed threats of violence” is ambiguous, which could lead to inconsistencies in how absences are excused. Clear guidelines are needed to ensure uniform application.
  • While the bill aims to ensure children are not held accountable for their parents’ or guardians’ role in their truancy, the bill does not address the needs of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness who are truant. What would the process be like for them? 

The Utilizing Partnerships and Local Interventions for Truancy and Safety (UPLIFT) Amendment Act of 2024 includes strong provisions intended to address truancy, discipline, and accountability. We recommend resolving issues that could impact unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness. For example:

  • The requirement for families to participate in a family rehabilitation plan created by DYRS may not be applicable to unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness
    who do not have stable family support. This could result in a gap in support for these youth, as they might not have a family to involve in such plans.
  • Making any child found delinquent due to a crime of violence or a dangerous crime while armed ineligible for deferred disposition could disproportionately affect unaccompanied homeless youth, who might be more vulnerable to engaging in such activities due to their circumstances. This provision could limit their opportunities for rehabilitation and recovery.
  • Enhanced school discipline measures may not consider the underlying issues faced by unaccompanied homeless youth, such as trauma, instability, and lack of
    support. Without addressing the root causes of their behavior, stricter discipline might exacerbate their challenges rather than help them.

We appreciate the District’s efforts to ensure that young people are able to access the education they deserve. We urge the Council to look carefully at the language in each of these bills to make sure the legislation effectively addresses the unique challenges faced by students experiencing homelessness, and provides ample support for these young people. Thank you for your time, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.