Federal legislation ensures homeless children’s access to school, and federal funding has been made available to schools that serve homeless children. The goal is to keep a child’s education as stable as possible despite residential instability.
As discussed above, homelessness can have a negative impact on educational achievement, particularly in situations where children cannot attend school. By providing homeless children with immediate access to schools and by providing schools with funding to help homeless children, the goal is to mitigate, or at least lessen, the effects of homelessness on school outcomes.
Most of the regulations for education and homeless children come from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act: Education for Homeless Children and Youth (2002), Title 42, which was reauthorized as part of No Child Left Behind legislation. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act defines the homeless population to be targeted, specifies how education funding is to be distributed to states and then localities, describes a system of SEAs and LEAs that are to oversee the subgrants and ensure that the educational needs of homeless children are met, and appropriates funds for this purpose.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act specifies that:
- Each homeless child should have “equal access” to education and education services. And “each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education.”
- Homeless children are to be “immediately enrolled” in school where enrollment is sought even if required documents and records such as medical, academic and residency are not available. Enrollment should be immediate “pending resolution of the dispute.” In addition, if a state has a compulsory residency requirement that may act as a barrier to enrollment, attendance or success of homeless children and youths, “the State will review and undertake steps to revise such la+-ws, regulation, practices or policies.”
- Segregation of homeless children is prohibited. Homeless children are not to be separated from other children in mainstream school just because they are homeless.
- Homeless children and youth should have access to same education and services as other children.
- Homeless children have the right to continue to attend their school of origin without having to pay the transportation costs.
McKinney-Vento also requires that “notice of educational rights” be distributed in places where homeless children may receive services and that parents/guardians are fully informed of all education, transportation services, and rights of students.
McKinney-Vento describes a system of SEAs and LEAs that take the lead on ensuring the McKinney-Vento Act and its regulations are followed. In addition, each state has a coordinator of education for homeless children and youth. This coordinator must collect information about access issues related to homeless children and schools. The coordinator is also responsible to collect information about difficulties identifying homeless students who have special needs and service access issues. Coordinators must also carry out the state plan, which is submitted to the Secretary of Education.
State plans must include information about how homeless children in the state are given the opportunity to meet the same academic standards as other children in the state; procedures used to identify homeless children and assess their special needs; procedures for resolution of enrollment disputes; programs for school personnel to increase knowledge of issues, particularly for homeless youth; procedures to ensure homeless students participate in federal food programs; and procedures to ensure equal access to all other school programs and services. The plan must also include procedures to eliminate barriers to immediate enrollment.
Additional provisions of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act require that the LEA focus on the “best interest” of the child. Decisions related to homeless children’s education must be made on an individual basis. This includes the right of the children to continue their education in the school of origin. LEAs are also responsible for coordinating the provision of services for homeless children with local service agencies and other service providers. And, LEAs can coordinate with local and state housing agencies to develop a housing affordability strategy to minimize the educational disruption for homeless children.
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding to schools and school districts with high percentages of low-income students; these funds can be used to assist homeless students. The statute requires the LEA to develop plans to include “a description of the services the local education agency will provide homeless children, including services provided with funds reserved under section 1113(c)(3)(A).” However, these funds cannot be used for transportation to school of origin, cannot be used to support the school district homeless liaison and other homeless support staff, and cannot be used for educationally related support services that may allow a homeless student to participate in the educational opportunities offered by the school.