Federal law protects students nationwide who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence by requiring school district provide them a free, public education no matter where they have moved temporarily. It is called the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which was first passed in 1987 and has been revised several times since, most recently in 2002.
This law requires that school district ensure any student who becomes homeless during any given school year retains the rigth access to his or her school of origin, if that is in the student's best interest, no matter where the student and his or her family or guardian seeks temporary shelter. This includes temporary shelters, hotels motels, trailer parks, camp grounds, foster homes, or children who are abandoned in hospitals. Other settings include children living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, sub-standard housing, and bus or train stations. McKinney-Vento states that children and youth are essentially considered homeless if their primary nighttime resident is a "public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accomodation for human beings.. The law also applies to migrant children who qualify as homeless and "unaccompanied youth" who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.
According to McKinney-Vento:
"The State and its local educational agencies will adopt policies and practices to ensure transportation is provided."
The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth states that, once a student's best interest is met in with regard to school of origin, and dependent upon the parent's or guardian's wishes, school districts are required to provide transportation services to and from that school of origin for the remainder of the given school year. The determination of best interest is a case-by-case, child-centered and individualized decision but the requirement to transport is unambiguous and unqualified. School districts, therefore, do not have the discretion of whether or not to provide transportation to the school of origin.
School transportation services for homeless students have widely become viewed as an related element of "special needs transportation." Like with the transportation of students with disabilities, homeless transportation can be a very expensive operation for school districts, especially when ensuring transportation to a school of origin that could require long rides in school buses or other vehicles. Because all schools are bound by this law, districts are encouraged to enter into agreements with their neighbors to provide this transportation across city, county and sometimes even state lines.