School's Out, but Education Opportunities for Homeless Youth Will Be Waiting in the Fall

July 9, 2018 - 3:33pm

A student in chemistry class pours liquid into a beaker.For more than 30 years, one piece of legislation has ensured that runaway and homeless youth receive the same educational opportunities as their peers with stable housing.

The McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was first authorized in 1987. Renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 2000, it was most recently reauthorized as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. There have also been changes to the Act over the years. For example, in 2015, ESSA provided professional development and technical assistance at the state and local levels and emphasized collaboration and coordination with other service providers. These amendments went into effect on October 1, 2016.

Specifically, the McKinney-Vento Act:

  • Defines homeless youth as individuals without a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence. This includes youth living in shelters, cars, parks, public spaces or abandoned buildings.
  • Establishes the right of homeless youth to continue in the school they attended before they became homeless and receive transportation to that school.
  • Prohibits school districts from segregating students experiencing homelessness into shelter classrooms, separate schools, or separate programs within a school.
  • Requires all school districts to have a liaison for homeless youth to serve as advocates and to connect these youth and their families to social services.
  • Requires every state to have a Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act in the state’s public schools.

The legislation remains critically important even after three decades. According to the 2017 Missed Opportunities: National Estimates report from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a minimum of 700,000 young people ages 13 to 17 experienced homelessness in the previous 12 months. That translates to 1 in 30 young people in the high school age range. The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE), meanwhile, found that the total number of students experiencing some form of homelessness rose 4 percent from 2013 to 2016. These figures are particularly worrisome considering the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness statement that “children and youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability are less likely to be academically successful, and less likely to graduate from high school and make it to and through college.”

Here are some ways to learn more about meeting the educational needs of homeless students:

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