COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's largest online school provider serving students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade has seen a spike in its homeless population applications.

What You Need To Know

  • The spike is at levels not seen before

  • 57 homeless students were enrolled in January

  • Ohio Virtual Academy received a grant to provide assistance to families facing homelessness who are trying to keep their kids in school

  • The commission might also consider hiring an independent mapmaker or mediator

In January, Ohio Virtual Academy saw at least triple the amount of applications than it did a decade ago. 

“We enrolled 57 homeless students in January alone, which is, again, more than we ever have,” said Heidi Ragar, at-risk administrator for the Ohio Virtual Academy. “And we did see the spike across other K-12 schools, but it was very notable here in Ohio. We have a large population of homeless students, and we have a large school, and so that may be one of the reasons we saw that huge spike.”

A lot of families faced eviction and financial hardship during the pandemic. While they were spared for a short time by measures taken by the federal government, the numbers jumped once the subsidies ended.

From there, Ragar said they saw the trickle-down effect with families not able to catch up, scrambling to live with others or shifting into Ohio's shelters.

“We were lucky enough to receive a grant from the state for some funds that we could use to help families and it's just been such a blessing,” Ragar said. “Through this grant, we can also provide some emergency housing in terms of hotel vouchers.”

Connecting with all health departments in every county, they've also been able to connect families with community resources.

"One other thing that we do is we connect with the local school districts, even though those students are attending school with us — just to see if we can partner with them to get some assistance," said Ragar.

The academy provides laptops as part of its program, and while internet is typically the responsibility of the parent, at OVHA, Ragar said the grant allowed for Wi-Fi or hotspot availability.

As time goes on, Ragar said they're not stopping at helping families and their students. Work is focused on working with their parent company on legislation to address the issues.

“They have key people in place that will really go to bat for us with legislation and just take our family stories to the legislators to say these are our challenges and what can you do to help us,” Ragar said.