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According to the U.S. Department of Education, during the 2013-14 school year, more than 1.3 million homeless children were enrolled in public schools.  Many of these students change schools often and lose academic progress with each change.  Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance on the new provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for supporting homeless students.  This detailed guidance is aimed at assisting state and local agencies in understanding and implementing the new law so that they can better serve this vulnerable population of students.

The Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program is authorized under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and reauthorized by ESSA.  Under the McKinney-Vento Act, state educational agencies must ensure that each homeless child has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as other children and that there are no barriers to identification, enrollment, attendance, or success in school.

The amended McKinney-Vento Act provides new protections for homeless youth, and the guidance is designed to help states, districts, and local partners understand the new provisions, which take effect October 1, 2016.  This detailed guidance outlines changes in the following areas:

  • Identification of homeless children and youths;
  • Making sure that preschool-aged homeless children have access to and receive supportive services;
  • Ensuring coordination with other service providers, including public and private child welfare and social service agencies; law enforcement agencies; juvenile and family courts; agencies providing mental health services; domestic violence agencies; child care providers; runaway and homeless youth centers; providers of services and programs funded under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act; and providers of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing, including public housing agencies, shelter operators, and operators of transitional housing facilities;
  • Providing professional development and technical assistance at both the State and local levels;
  • Removing enrollment barriers;
  • Providing school stability, including the expansion of school of origin to include preschools and receiving schools and the provision of transportation until the end of the school year, even if a student becomes permanently housed;
  • Protecting privacy of student records, including information about a homeless child or youth’s living situation;
  • Improving the dispute resolution process for decisions relating to the educational placement of homeless children and youths;
  • Increasing the emphasis on college and career readiness; and
  • Establishing a new authority for local liaisons to verify the eligibility of homeless children, youths, and families for HUD homeless assistance programs.

The Department of Education also released a fact sheet for teachers, principals, counselors and other school staff discussing the needs of homeless students, a summary of the protections for homeless children and youths under the McKinney-Vento Act, and recommendations for how educators can help.  This fact sheet is a great starting point for understanding the obligations teachers, principals, counselors and staff members have to ensure the success of all homeless students.

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