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 7 percent from 2014 to 2017. 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:
- Read about the protections for homeless youth provided by ESSA, including new requirements, at our RHY Partners page on the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
- Find innovative programs from institutions of higher education working to help homeless youth navigate the transition from high school to higher education, listed on our RHY Partners page on the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- Review the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s (FYSB) list of collaborative projects between the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program and ED.
- Visit the NCHE website, which operates a technical assistance center for the ED Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program. You can find information and training resources in addition to a collection of regularly updated NCHE issue briefs that discuss an array of issues related to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and its implementation. Additional resources available from NCHE include an interactive map to find your State Coordinator for homeless education.
- Use the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) comprehensive guide, The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children and Youth in Homeless Situations, with 148 questions and answers, a glossary of terms, and complete references.