Every Student Succeeds Act: Homeless Students

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

During the 2013–2014 school year, the U.S. Department of Education accounted for the enrollment of “more than 1.3 million homeless children and youth in public schools”—a number that has doubled since 2006–2007.

To continue to protect and ensure a growing number of homeless children and youth have equitable access to public education and needed services, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorized the Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program (Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act).

Under ESSA, McKinney-Vento includes a number of new provisions that expand schools’ obligations to homeless children and youth.

Among the many key changes, McKinney-Vento requires state and local levels to improve efforts to identify homeless students, remove barriers to enrollment (e.g., fees, proof of residency, health records), coordinate with other service providers (e.g., law enforcement, shelters), maintain school stability (local organizations must work to keep students in their school of origin), and ensure that homeless children have access to early education. These changes reflect a continued emphasis on state and local requirements “to review and undertake steps to revise laws, regulations, practices or policies that may act as barriers to the identification, enrollment, attendance, or success in school of homeless children and youths.”

Guidance at the State and Local Levels

State and local educational agencies were required to begin the implementation of new provisions in October 2016. To help with these efforts, the U.S. Department of Education published non-regulatory guidance on amendments to McKinney-Vento in July 2016. The purpose of the guidance is to introduce amendments to McKinney-Vento under ESSA and provide recommendations at the state and local levels for addressing new requirements. Key recommendations include how to identify homeless children and youth (e.g., local liaisons can work with shelters to identify preschool-age homeless children), how to remove barriers to enrollment (e.g., providing on-site immunization clinics), and how to remove barriers to attendance and success (e.g., identify transportation point person to make arrangements for students, establish a positive school climate for homeless students). Along with the non-regulatory guidance, the U.S. Department of Education also released A Fact Sheet & Tips for Teachers, Principals, School Leaders, Counselors, and Other School Staff as an additional resource.

Call to Action

The blogs written by the Public Policy Committee are intended to inform KDP members and invite them to act. You are encouraged to participate in a special discussion forum in KDP Global. By sharing your expertise and experiences, others can learn from you. In other words, your participation is a way to advocate for the teaching profession. Please answer this week’s questions:

  1. What questions do you have regarding ESSA and homeless children and youth?
  2. Do you find the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance, fact sheet, and tips helpful?

stich_amyDr. Amy Stich is Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations at Northern Illinois University and a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Public Policy Committee.

Student Homelessness is Real—And More Common Than You Think

It’s the eyes that give them away, every time. They look just like every other student . . . until they start to tell their story.

Then, the eyes give them away—eyes that have seen horrors that their owners are too young to process—abuse, neglect, mental illness, addiction. It’s the dark circles under the eyes, a little too dark for a teenager to own. It’s the eyes that betray the instability and uncertainty of homelessness.

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, a cause far too under-publicized. When I say I used to work with homeless and unaccompanied high school students, people have a lot of questions: What happened? How did I not know? How common is this?

According to “America’s Outcasts,” it is quite common, in fact. One in 30 children (2.5 million total) was homeless in 2013, an increase from 1.6 million in 2010. These numbers only include public school students whose administration knew of their circumstances, so it is likely the number is much higher.

These numbers are also significantly higher than those for traditionally homeless individuals. The McKinney Vento Act has a broadened definition of homelessness in order to reduce some of the associated instability and academic losses. The definition includes students who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” are “doubled up” (living with another family due to financial hardship), are living in motels or shelters of any type, are awaiting foster care placement, or are living in a car or other place not designated for human inhabitation. Students who cannot contact their parents or guardians or whose guardians are unable to care for them also qualify as unaccompanied youth (NAEHCY).

The majority of the young women with whom I worked fell under that final category, because they lived with friends, relatives, and sometimes, strangers. Because they were minors (most were 16–17 years old), they couldn’t stay in traditional shelters and, because they lacked parental permission, they couldn’t stay in youth shelters. Most had been abandoned. One’s mother had a terminal illness and lived in a facility, while another’s was sentenced to life in prison. One moved 12 times in a year. For these students, school became their home and their stability.

A significant amount of this stability comes from The McKinney Vento Act, since it goes beyond definitions and attempts to reduce or remove barriers to enrollment and school participation. In accordance with the law, students can stay in their school of origin and schools are required to provide transportation and equitable programming. Some districts go a step farther and offer food and hygiene programs or mentoring programs, but these are not enough.

Nationally, 40 percent of school-aged students coded as homeless show signs of clinical mental illness (homelesschildrenamerica.com), less than half are proficient in math and reading (ECHY) and up to 60 percent of unaccompanied youth report significant abuse at home (NAEHCY). Reports show that only about 67 percent of homeless students graduate on time, compared to 79 percent of students living in poverty, and 88 percent of all students (NAECHY).

Anecdotally, I know that most of the high schoolers work long hours, have little internet access, have no quiet place to study, and some ride the bus for more than an hour each way. Some are suspended for unexcused absences—because they don’t have a parent to call into the school. Other than a busy social worker and me, few had other adults they trusted and relied on for support.

What can you, as a teacher, do to help provide for these students?

  1. Educate yourself and others:

Read the KDP ProPointers “Teaching Students Who Are Homeless”

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAECHY)

America’s Youngest Outcasts (ECHY)

The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE)

The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin

  1. If you suspect a student might qualify, speak with your social worker or administration.
  2. Create or advocate for more programming within your district for homeless families and youth. It can be as simple as a sock or soap drive or as big as partnering with a non-profit to provide case management services.
  3. If you know that a student is coded, give them a little extra kindness. School becomes a home to these students and they may not always be able to come prepared to class. Each one of the students that I worked with that graduated on time often shared that there were 1 or 2 teachers who let them nap during lunch or let them have extra time on homework.

In two school years, I was lucky enough to have close relationships with 13 different young women in two school districts in Indianapolis. All 13 graduated and 9 are attending college. Three earned full rides and two are majoring in social work because they want to make a difference like I did for them. Maybe one of your students will become a teacher because you went the extra mile for them.

Melissa ChrismanMelissa 9-14-15 is the Southeast Regional Chapter Coordinator for Kappa Delta Pi. Prior to joining KDP, she worked as an intensive case manager for high school students who qualified as homeless in Indianapolis.