Inside Philanthropy: Will the Gates Foundation Turn Now to Housing Policy?
Kiersten Marek writes in Inside Philanthropy that the Gates Foundation seems to be ramping up its interest in the connection between housing and education. The foundation has made a few small investments in this interaction, and it appears to have realized that homelessness and housing instability has a negative impact on educational achievement. One straw in the wind: "The new CEO of the foundation, Susan Desmond-Hellman, recently wrote on the Impatient Optimists blog that a "stable place to call home" is one of the "few things that every child needs to lead a healthy, productive life." (Along with good schools and a strong community.)…"
While the Gates Foundation has long noted the obvious linkages between housing, family stability, and student achievement, it hasn't done much grantmaking to specifically address that nexus. But that's changing, and [Gates' program officer Kollin] Min says the foundation is advancing "partnerships between housing authorities and school districts, to look at the connection between housing stability and educational outcomes."
Min cited McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, which was recently profiled by the Urban Institute, as an example of the kind of collaboration that the Gates Foundation has created. By enrolling in the McCarver special program, kids and families commit to staying with the same school and receive rental assistance as well as other forms of support. The idea, of course, is that less moving around will allow kids to improve academically—and not only the kids who would otherwise be shuttling around, but also their classmates, who studies show are negatively affected by the disruption of students coming and going.
Min says the foundation has seen "positive results" from the partnership between the Tacoma School District and the Tacoma Housing Authority. But he also says this work is still early in the game. "We are just kind of taking baby steps with thinking about these issues." On the other hand, as Min describes it, all this is hardly rocket science: "We've come to the firm point of view that for many children challenged by housing and mobility issues, it really is important to try to bring systems together, and that's really the only way that we can improve outcomes."
Perhaps the Gates Foundation could become a strong voice taking a stand against school closings, which are needlessly disruptive in the lives of children, families, and communities. The recognition that children are negatively affected by disruption is an important insight. We can hope that these are lessons learned that will change future practice.