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This document is part of AASA’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation resources. The full set of resources is available at aasa.org/AASAESSA.aspx

New Requirements in ESSA Impacting the Education of Homeless Students

There are 1.3 million children and youth experiencing homelessness across the United States. The McKinney-Vento Act's Education for Homeless Children and Youth program provides students experiencing homelessness with protections and services to ensure they can enroll in and attend school, complete their high school education, and continue on to higher education. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), makes changes to the McKinney-Vento Act that are important for school leaders to understand. Unlike other provisions of ESSA, the amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act go into effect on October 1, 2016.

Best-Interest Determinations for School of Origin

Under ESSA, an LEA must presume that it is best for a homeless student to stay in their school of origin when determining what school that child should attend or continue attending. If a child’s parent or guardian or the child himself, if he is an unaccompanied youth, requests a change of placement, then the district should prioritize this request. The LEA must also consider “student-centered factors” related to the child’s continued placement in their school of origin. If the district decides it is not in a student’s interest to remain in his school of origin even if the parent/guardian or student would like to remain in the school, the school must provide the student and parent/guardian with explanation of the reasons for its determination, in a manner and form understandable to such parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth, including information regarding the right to appeal this placement.

The definition of school of origin includes the designated receiving school at the next grade level for all feeder schools, when a student completes the final grade level served by the school of origin. The determination of whether it is in a student’s best interest to follow the feeder school pattern is subject to the same process as other best interest determinations. Please note that school of origin also refers to pre-schools.

Enrolling Homeless Students

Under ESSA, homeless students must be enrolled in school immediately, even if the student has missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness. This means that a homeless student must be enrolled even if they lack previous academic records, records of immunization and other required health records, proof of residency or other documentation used for enrolling students. In addition, the enrolling school must immediately contact the school last attended by the child or youth to obtain relevant academic and other records. If the student needs to obtain immunizations or other health records, the enrolling school must immediately refer the student’s parent/guardian (or in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the student) to the McKinney-Vento liaison who shall assist them in obtaining records, immunizations and screenings. ESSA explicitly states that districts have an obligation to maintain health and academic records, as well as other enrollment records such as birth certificates, guardianship records and evaluations for special services or programs for homeless students.

Enrollment Disputes

If a dispute between a parent/guardian and district arises over eligibility or school selection or enrollment, the child and youth are immediately enrolled in the school in which enrollment is sought, pending a final resolution of the dispute, including all available appeals. The parent or guardian of the child or youth or (in the case of an unaccompanied youth) the youth shall be provided with a written explanation of any decisions related to school selection or enrollment made by the school, the local educational agency, or the State educational agency involved, including the rights of the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth to appeal such decisions.

New Duties of Local Liaisons

In ESSA, LEAs must designate local liaisons who are able to carry out the duties described in the McKinney-Vento Act. Local liaisons are now required to ensure unaccompanied homeless youth have opportunities to meet the State academic achievement standards, including implementing procedures to remove barriers to credit accrual and award of partial credits. In addition, local liaisons must inform homeless students seeking post-secondary education that they qualify as independent students for purposes of financial aid and that they can obtain assistance with the FASFA. Liaisons must also ensure homeless families and children can access early intervention services under IDEA Part C, if eligible.

Local liaisons should lead efforts to develop, review and revise LEA policies to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment, and retention of homeless students in school, including barriers due to fees, fines and absences.

LEA Title I Plan

LEA Title I plans must describe the services the LEA will provide to support the enrollment, attendance and success of homeless children and youth, including services provided with the Title I homeless reservation, in coordination with the services the LEA provides under the McKinney-Vento Act.

All LEAs that receive Title I funds must reserve funds to support homeless students. The amount of Title I funds reserved for homeless children and youth may be determined based on a needs assessment, and must be based on the total allocation received by the LEA and reserved prior to any allowable expenditure of transfers by the LEA. Title I funds reserved for homeless children and youth may be used for services not ordinarily provided by Title I, including local liaisons and transportation to the school of origin. LEAs must provide disaggregated information on the graduation rates and academic achievement of homeless children and youth to the SEA for the State report card.

Awaiting Foster Care Placement

In December 2016, the phrase “awaiting foster care placement” will be deleted from the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act. In the three states with a state law defining “awaiting foster care placement” (Arkansas, Delaware, and Nevada), the phrase “awaiting foster care placement” will be deleted from the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act two years after enactment. This means McKinney-Vento rights and services are no longer applicable to students “awaiting foster care placement.”