Across the United States, homeless children’s opportunities to experience school success are severely compromised by their high rates of residential and school mobility, poor school attendance, shelter policies that jeopardize their physical and psychological well-being, and barriers to accessing both schooling and appropriate educational services once they are in school. Federal legislation, specifically the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act and its subsequent amendments, mandates that state educational authorities (SEAs) review and revise all policies, practices, laws, and regulations that may act as a barrier to enrollment, attendance, and school success of homeless students. This chapter provides an overview of federal mandates and describes persistent obstacles that continue to jeopardize the school success of homeless children and youth in the United States.
The threat to school success as a result of homelessness was recognized by the U.S. Congress more than 10 years ago when it passed the first comprehensive legislation to aid the homeless. The 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, and its subsequent amendments in 1990 and 1994, provided considerable protection for the educational needs of homeless children and youth. It also provided formula grants to SEAs to carry out the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program created by the act.
One of the most important provisions of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program is the requirement that SEAs ensure that local educational agencies (LEAs) do not create a separate education system for homeless children: “Homelessness alone should not be sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment” [Sec. 721(3)]. State and local educational agencies must “adopt policies and practices to ensure that homeless children and youth are not isolated or stigmatized” [Sec. 711(g)(1)(H)]. Homeless children must get the same access to education that children with established residences receive: “Each state educational agency shall ensure