PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · March 13, 2024

Learning Recovery for Homeless Students Lags behind Other High-Need Groups

This is the final post in a three-part series examining homeless youth in California’s K–12 public schools. The first post covered statewide trends and the demographics of homeless students. The second post examined regional variation in homeless enrollment.

photo - Elementary Schoolboy in Classroom Sitting at Desk and Having Trouble with a Test

California actively targets funding to high-need students —low income, English learners, and foster youth—through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Homeless students qualify as low-income and are counted as high-need, but they often face additional challenges and are more likely to have poor mental and physical health outcomes. Furthermore, homeless students in California have worse learning outcomes compared to most other high-need student groups and the overall student population—a gap that worsened during the pandemic and has continued to widen.

While 2023 proficiency rates for low-income students and those who were ever English learners (ever-EL) were lower than the total student population by 11 percentage points (pp), homeless students had a much larger gap: roughly 20pp behind in both math and English Language Arts (ELA). Homeless students and ever-ELs graduated at a similar rate (76%–77%), but both groups were around 10pp lower than low-income students. Only foster youth had lower graduation (67%) and Smarter Balanced Assessment proficiency rates (19% in ELA; 10% in Math).

During the 2022–23 school year, homeless students had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism (41%) compared to all other student subgroups. Twenty-one percent of homeless students dropped out of school or did not complete high school within five years, a rate 10pp higher than low-income students. The trends in California mirror national findings—homeless students across the country have lower graduation rates, higher chronic absenteeism rates, and higher dropout rates than other students, even other low-income students.

Learning loss during the pandemic impacted all student groups, but the post-pandemic recovery has been worse  for homeless students. From 2019–22, proficiency rates in math dropped by 7pp for homeless students—the same loss as for ever-ELs, and slightly higher than the loss among all students and low-income students. However, 2022-23 learning recovery was minimal for homeless students in math, while the total student population saw a 1pp gain.

Gaps were larger for ELA; from 2019–22, proficiency dropped 5pp for homeless students, compared to 4 pp overall and among low-income and EL students. Then in 2022–23, proficiency fell another 2 pp for homeless students, resulting in a 7pp decline from the pre-pandemic rate compared to less than a 5pp decline for other high-need groups.

The learning disparities that homeless students are experiencing are some of the largest since the pandemic—and the gap may be widening, according to the test score data. Despite being classified as low-income under the LCFF, outcomes for homeless students lag behind those of other low-income students.

Yet current budget constraints mean that districts may struggle to secure extra funding to support their homeless students. Under the Cayla Settlement, California is required to spend remaining funds from the Learning Recovery Block Grant to support students in greatest need of learning recovery supports, which may include homeless students in many districts. And as the one-time funding streams expire,  improving the ways districts identify students who are experiencing housing instability and expanding collaborations with local housing support systems could better connection homeless students to services.


absenteeism coronavirus COVID-19 English learners foster youth homelessness Housing K–12 Education K–12 student homelessness learning loss Local Control Funding Formula Poverty & Inequality test scores