Tag Archives: McKinney-Vento Act

Serving Disconnected Youth in a Dispersed School System

What happens to homeless and disconnected youth in a decentralized system of schools? This is a question that must be top of mind as charter school enrollment climbs and school systems become increasingly decentralized in cities across the country. (For an in-depth look at data on charter schools, see a new Bellwether resource, the Learning Landscape.) To some extent, education leaders have begun to grapple with the challenges of meeting all students’ needs when the district is no longer the only provider of education. Services like special education and policies like discipline — once in the sole purview of the district — have had to be reimagined to ensure equality and fairness across a decentralized system of schools.

In the same way, the systems and policies in place to support homeless and other disconnected youth must be reimagined to ensure students’ needs are identified and met.

The McKinney-Vento Act Captureoutlines the services homeless students are entitled to, including requiring each local education agency (LEA) to have a homeless liaison on staff, in charge of identifying homeless youth and liaising with outside agencies such as homeless shelters or mental health services. Though this model has its challenges, it does streamline districts’ advocacy efforts for homeless youth. In a traditional district, one person is in charge of coordinating with all necessary agencies to ensure that a homeless child’s needs are met. In cities where the majority of school-aged students attend the local school district, this means that those agencies are generally working with a single person to meet the needs of the majority of homeless students in the city.

But in cities with large numbers of charter schools, there could be dozens of liaisons — from numerous CMOs, independent charter schools, and the district — reaching out to the same limited number of service agencies in an attempt to secure services for their homeless students. The increased burden of coordination across many schools could lead to a decline in the quality of services.

It is imperative that education leaders and policymakers plan carefully and thoughtfully to ensure that homeless and disconnected youth are not lost in the shuffle. There is also real opportunity for new thinking around these issues: The autonomy and flexibility of the charter sector gives leaders a chance to fully reimagine the relationship between schools and service providers, cutting through silos and pioneering new ways for schools to identify homeless and other disconnected students and ensure there are supports are in place to help them do well.

States Should Redefine “Need” When Subgranting Federal Funds for Homeless Students

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has helped ensure that homeless children and youth have access to the same educational opportunities as their non-homeless peers. Under the legislation, the U.S. Department of Education provides grants to states, which in turn provide subgrants to local education agencies (LEAs). LEAs can use these grants for a variety of projects, including coordinating with local service agencies or expediting enrollment for homeless students. Most often these subgrants are awarded on a competitive basis, and funding levels are determined by “need.” Unfortunately, the way states determine need is insufficient.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 1.16.50 PMTypically, need is defined as the number of homeless students served in the district. In California and Ohio, for example, though all LEAs are eligible to apply for a grant, grant amounts are based on the LEA’s reported count of homeless students in the previous year. In Virginia, the size of the homeless student population accounts for 30 percent of an LEA’s overall application score.

To be sure, the size of the homeless student population is an important consideration for states when making subgrants. The more homeless students a district has, the more resources are needed to ensure those students are served. But homeless population size may not be the only, or most important, determiner of an LEA’s need for additional funds.

Homeless students face a host of challenges both in and out of school, and districts often rely on partnerships with outside service agencies to support homeless students and their families in accessing food, clothing, shelter, and mental and physical health services. But the disparity in the availability of service agencies based on geography is well documented. Agencies and organizations serving the homeless tend to be clustered in city centers, meaning that LEAs located in or near urban areas have a variety of agencies at their disposal, while rural and suburban areas have greater difficulty accessing similar services. When these services do exist, the lack of public transportation can make it difficult for families to access them. As a result, schools and districts located in rural and suburban geographies are often less equipped to deal with student homelessness than those located in urban areas and therefore may need more funds to bring in services or transport students and families to agencies in neighboring towns.

If geography and the availability of outside service agencies were considered alongside the homeless population size, a fuller picture of an LEA’s “need” for a McKinney-Vento subgrant would emerge. It is likely the case, for example, that a rural school district has a harder time supporting 100 homeless students and accessing necessary services than does an urban district with 1,000 homeless students.

Ultimately, states should consider these other relevant factors alongside the LEA’s homeless population count when determining need and subgranting funds. Doing so would help school districts better meet the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable children.

ESSA is a Win for Homeless Students

Much has been written about how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) solves nothing, continues the long federal retreat from education, and will leave vulnerable children behind. But what has been regularly overlooked is that ESSA is actually a win for the more than 2.5 million children and youth who experience homelessness each year.

Ensuring school stability for homeless children is critical, but there are very real barriers to doing so. Students often lack important paperwork, like medical records and proof of residency, making it difficult to enroll in school. Once enrolled, housing instability can mean high mobility and frequent absences, making it difficult for children and youth to access a consistent, quality education. A lack of transportation can make it difficult for students to get to school or for parents to participate in school activities for their children. Moreover, parents and youth often experience fear, shame, and embarrassment about their situations and avoid asking for help.

Thankfully, federal legislation (through Title I Part A and the McKinney-Vento Act)—and the amendments made to these programs under ESSA—has helped address many of these barriers. These programs have created structures to enable homeless students to enroll in school, remain in the same school, and access appropriate academic services like special education or gifted programming. The passage of ESSA demonstrates encouraging progress toward even greater protection and support for these students.

In particular, the amendments address the needs of two subgroups of homeless students: preschoolers and unaccompanied youths. Continue reading

Homeless Kids Count, So HUD Should Start Counting Them

A bill introduced in the Senate in late January proposes that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) use a definition of “homeless” that could enable more youth and families to access its services.

Homeless youth and families that are living temporarily in motels or who are “doubled up”—temporarily living in a family member’s or friend’s home—do not count as homeless under HUD’s current definition, and they are literally not counted in HUD’s annual point-in-time count, which counts the number of homeless individuals on one night in January. As a result, these homeless youth and families are only eligible for HUD homelessness assistance on a very limited basis.

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