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Homeless Students Are Guaranteed Access to Education Under the McKinney-Vento Act

The McKinney-Vento Act guarantees that homeless children have fair access to education. To comply with this federal legislation, states have to provide solutions for homeless students’ transportation needs, immunization and residency requirements, lack of birth certificates and school records, and guardianship issues, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Official data indicates that there were 1.3 million homeless children enrolled in the 2019-2020 school year with 11% of this population living in shelters and 1% identified as migratory youth.

Who Qualifies as a Homeless Student?

The McKinney-Vento Act identifies people who are homeless as lacking “a fixed, regular, and adequate
nighttime residence”. That covers children who are staying in a shelter, a hotel or motel, and children who have been sent to live with relatives or friends because their parents are facing economic hardship.

Undocumented children have the same right to a public education as children who are U.S. citizens, so they are also guaranteed all McKinney-Vento Act protections if they are homeless. In fact, it’s illegal for school staff to inquire about a student’s immigration status. School districts have to gather data to identify which students are homeless, but any identifying information will not be shared with immigration agencies.

What Does the McKinney-Vento Act Provide?

Homeless New Yorkers can use this state tool to find the contact information of their local McKinney-Vento liaison, who will help enroll the child in school services. An unaccompanied minor who is homeless can enroll themselves in school and gain access to McKinney-Vento services.

These services include:

Stay in the same school, including pre-k, and get free transportation even if it is across district lines 

Immediately enroll in school without records (school records, medical records, vaccination records, proof of residency)

Get special education services immediately if the student has a current Individualized Education Program

Participate fully in school activities including before or after school activities

Get support services and help with things like school supplies through Title I

Get free school meals without filling out an application; get help enrolling in pre-k, Head Start, other preschool programs, and Early Intervention

And get help preparing and applying for college. 

The New York State Technical and Educational Assistance Center for Homeless Students

The Education of Homeless Children and Youth program is just one section of the McKinney-Vento Act, which was passed in 1987 as the first and only law that guarantees federal money for homeless shelters. Read more about what the law covers here.

Also Read: Mentorship Opportunities for Immigrant Youth in New York

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