by Dr. Dina Flores-Mejorado
I had the pleasure of attending a webinar on a federal law entitled the “McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act.” This law was enacted in 1987 in response to the growing number of homeless families in the United States. Homeless families now number 3.5 million and 1.5 million of those are children. I felt it was important that everyone should be aware of this law in order to help as many students as possible.
This law is part of “No Child Left Behind” which was reauthorized in 2002. Prior to the enactment of this law, some 50% of homeless students were unable to attend public schools due to the various requirements for enrollment like birth certificates, immunization records, proof of residency, utility bills, and so on. Most districts have policies that detail how to follow the McKinney-Vento laws; however, many districts do not follow that policy. Teachers and principals may unknowingly be violating federal and state laws by turning students away. When administrators and teachers do not follow this law, students are excluded from enrolling in school and they lose an average of 4-6 months of academic progress for each move. HOW DOES THIS LAW HELP STUDENTS? Homeless students receive immediate enrollment without records. It provides school stability so that homeless students can attend the same school for a whole year. If the students do not have transportation, the “SCHOOL OF ORIGIN” is a provision within the McKinney-Vento law that provides transportation. In addition, they also receive support such as child nutrition, school supplies, and Title I services.
All personnel must be taught to “see” homeless students because their families in transition are not going to come and inform everyone they are homeless. The new middle class homeless includes many teachers, realtors, lawyers, engineers, retail workers, and more. These families do not know how to access workforce services, food (SNAP/WIC) cards, public transportation, or Medicaid. 40-70% of all homeless people are children, and they are in our schools. In Texas, two-thirds of districts reported 83,224 homeless students which were identified by schools reported to TEA in 2010-11. The Urban Institute estimates that about 10% of all children in poverty will experience homelessness in the next year. In 2011, 1,751,180 Texas children lived below poverty level – 10% would be 175,118.
Federal law and Texas law now mandate identification and coding of McKinney-Vento students in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). Many districts use a “Student Residency Questionnaire” (SRQ) to determine the student’s housing status and any students who may be eligible for McKinney-Vento are then referred to the homeless liaison for further conversation. By federal law, it is the responsibility of the homeless liaison to determine eligibility for homeless services and records students’ identifications in the PEIMS records. A homeless liaison should be knowledgeable about all the laws and local rules that are relevant to homeless and highly mobile families. For instance, they should know all the local shelter policies and procedures along with being able to train others to help identify and serve homeless students.
Many people ask the question, “What constitutes homeless?” The Federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act says that children and youth who lack a fixed, adequate, and regular nighttime residence are homeless. For example, children living in shelters awaiting placement in foster care; families or youth living in campgrounds or parks, living in cars, or abandoned buildings; families or youth living in airports, bus stations, or train stations; and families living in doubled-up situations. All district personnel need to understand the barriers homeless students face; For example, lack of continuity in education; transportation and attendance problems; poor health/nutrition; poor hygiene; social and behavioral concerns; reactions/statements by parent, guardian, or child; and lack of privacy/personal space after school. All district personnel need to advocate for homeless students’ academic success through modifications; arrival times; curriculum; uses of technology; field trips; extracurricular activities; and having food over the weekend.
ALL school/district personnel need know the district’s homeless liaison and the “signs” of homelessness. Remember, NEVER use the word “homeless”; always say a student is “McKinney-Vento eligible.” If possible, add information in your weekly/monthly newsletters on how to access workforce services or food cards in your schools area. Display McKinney-Vento posters in both English and Spanish in the lobby of the school. Keep in mind that HOMELESS does NOT = HELPLESS or HOPELESS.
If your school would like to request posters or need additional guidance/information, please visit “TEXAS HOMELESS EDUCATION OFFICE”.
Their staff includes:
Barbara Wand James, Project Director
Vicky Dill, Senior Program Coordinator
Patrick D. Lopez, Senior Program Coordinator
Janie C. Phillips, Administrative Associate
Tim Stahlke, Senior Program Coordinator
Jeanne Stamp, Senior Program Coordinator
They can be reached at:
Charles A. Dana Center
The University of Texas at Austin
1616 Guadalupe Street, Suite 3.206
Austin, TX 78701
Call toll-free in Texas: 1-800-446-3142
Send faxes to: 512-471-6193
Listed below are several references and additional resources:
Gray, S. (2009, March 10). Report says 1 in 50 kids is homeless. Time, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1883966,00.html
James, B.W. & Dill, V.S. (2012, November 14). McKinney-Vento Webinar.
National Association of the Education of Homeless Children and Youth www.naehcy.org
National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) www.serve.org/nche
National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty www.nlchp.org
United States Department of Education; McKinney-Vento Program www.ed.gov/OFFICES/CEP
National Coalition for the Homeless www.nationalhomeless.org
Bullying Prevention Manual by Donna Clark Love (281) 467-4861
Traffick Stop, Tomi Grover, Ph.D. (214) 418-8318