Education for Youth Who Are Homeless
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1986 is a federal law that provides money for homeless shelter programs. “Homeless” children are also entitled to the protections of the McKinney-Vento Act.
How is homelessness defined?
The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” The act provides examples of children who would fall under this definition:
- Children sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing
- Children living in “motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative accommodations”
- Children living in “emergency or transitional shelters”
- Children “awaiting foster care placement”
- Children whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g., park benches, etc.)
- Children living in “cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train station”
The McKinney-Vento Act ensures homeless children transportation to and from school free of charge, allowing children to attend their school of origin (last school enrolled or the school they attended when they first become homeless) regardless of what district the family resides in. It requires schools to register homeless children even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residence.
Washington State’s Role
The McKinney-Vento Act is a conditional funding act—the federal government gives grants to states and, in return, the grantee states are bound by the terms of the act. If a state chooses not to accept federal funds for these purposes, it does not have to implement the act.
To implement the McKinney-Vento Act, the state must designate a statewide homeless coordinator to review policies and create procedures, including dispute resolution procedures, to ensure homeless children are able to attend school.
Responsibilities of School Districts
Local school districts must appoint liaison contacts to ensure school staff are aware of these rights, to provide public notice to homeless families (at shelters and at school), and to facilitate access to school and transportation services.