The National Center for Homeless Education issued a new brief, “Transporting Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness,” that explains the provisions of Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and offers strategies for implementation.
The intent of the McKinney-Vento Act is to remove roadblocks to a homeless student’s educational access and success. The federal law provides homeless students the right to continue attending their school of origin or enroll in any public school that non-homeless students who live in the same attendance area are eligible to attend. This can have a direct effect on student transportation.
NCHE Spokeswoman Christina Dukes told School Transportation News the Center released its updated transportation brief to ensure it was providing the most current, well-articulated information on the issue. She added that transportation requirements under federal law have not changed since the reauthorization of NCLB in January 2002 — namely, that districts must transport homeless students to their school of origin.
But she also noted that dialogue and practice in this field have evolved since reauthorization and the release of NCHE's original transportation brief a decade ago.
“This brief ensures that the national homeless education field has the most updated information on policy and practice,” she added. “As state and local educational agency understanding of transportation requirements increased, their desire for information about how to provide required transportation also increased.”
The new brief emphasizes the need for collaboration among LEAs, local liaisons, community agencies, school districts and parents to create a transportation plan and ensure proper funding.
“The LEA’s transportation director should work with the local liaison, district leadership, neighboring districts and homeless service providers to develop effective transportation polices and procedures,” the brief stated.
In addition, the brief highlights the vital role of school bus drivers, who are often the first and last people that transient students see on school days, and the need to train them on the law’s requirements concerning homeless students. Children awaiting foster care placement also fall into this category because they are mobile.
“Drivers also may assist with identifying students in homeless situations as they observe changes in when and where students are picked up or dropped off,” the brief noted.
To prevent stigmatization of such students, NCHE recommends school districts arrange these particular bus routes so that students staying in homeless shelters or motels can be picked up and dropped off in a way that doesn't reveal their place of temporary residence.
Many homeless students cross LEA, county and even state lines between temporary living arrangements and school, and in cases of interdistrict transportation, the two affected school districts must share the responsibility and the costs. While the McKinney-Vento Act provides modest grants to states to help cover the costs of supplemental services, some school districts still get huge bills for transporting this segment.
In Massachusetts, for example, the cost of busing homeless students is a hot topic in the race between two state politicians seeking election this month. During an online chat Wednesday, Rep. Ted Speliotis said his area had been reimbursed above and beyond the $300,000 it spent on homeless student transportation, receiving $1.6 million more in education funding.
“Without the families living in hotels in Danvers, there would be no large increase in aid,” he said.
Republican challenger, Dan Bennett, on Thursday challenged his claim that homeless student transportation has been fully funded and offered his own solution to the purported shortfall.
“The first thing is to fix the problem and eliminate the warehousing of families in motels. The true cost of this problem needs to be identified and accounted for,” said Bennett.