Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The McKinney-Vento Act governs the way states and local education agencies (LEAs) are required under federal law to support their homeless student populations. The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to have policies and practices in place that encourage the immediate enrollment of homeless students, remove barriers to enrollment, including transportation, ensure the full participation of homeless students in school, support school stability and require care to ensure that homeless students are not stigmatized. Following the last reauthorization of McKinney-Vento in 2001, the U.S. Department of Education issued non-regulatory informal guidance that schools have been following since to help interpret their obligations under McKinney-Vento. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amendments effective as of October 1, 2016 not only codify the informal guidance that schools have been following, but also change in several significant ways how schools must support homeless students, including modifying the definitions of homeless students and youth, and the definition of school or origin, expanding duties for McKinney-Vento Homeless liaisons and clarifying privacy obligations to homeless students to name some.

While ESSA leaves most of the McKinney-Vento Act definitions intact, it removes “students awaiting foster care” from the definition of “homeless child or youth” effective December 10, 2016, and creates new rights for such children and youth under Title I, Part A. Many of these rights fall within the state Title I Plan provisions. LEAs receiving Title I funds must have LEA Title I plans that contain assurances that it will collaborate with state or local child welfare agencies regarding the provision of transportation to and from the school of origin, if in the student’s best interest. It is contemplated that transportation is to be paid from local welfare agency funds unless an LEA agrees otherwise. LEAs must designate a foster care point of contact, and that individual may be the McKinney-Vento liaison, assuming the person can fulfill the demands of both roles. Additionally, ESSA added a requirement that SEAs and LEAs report annually on the academic achievement and graduation rates for children in foster care as a separate subgroup to show how foster youth are performing relative to their peers.

Most notably under the ESSA Amendments, the term “school of origin” has been redefined and expanded to now include preschools and “the designated receiving school at the next grade level for all feeder schools”. Unfortunately, preschool is not defined under the ESSA Amendment.[1]

Further, the amendments require a presumption that it is in a student’s best interest to remain in the school of origin, add professional development requirements for homeless liaisons which will likely be interpreted to require some annual training, expand upon immediate enrollment requirements, add credit accrual and college readiness requirements and add a requirement that state coordinators monitor LEA’s to ensure compliance with McKinney-Vento. Additionally, the amendments clarify that information about a homeless student’s living arrangement is FERPA protected and their address and living situation is not directory information.

For further information about how ESSA impacts the rights of children in your school district who are experiencing homelessness, please consult our office with specific questions. Additional information can also be found at naehcy.org.

[1]The definition of preschool program for federal data collection purposes is a helpful reference. Examples of preschool programs for federal data collection purposes includes head start programs receiving funding from an LEA or for which the LEA is a grant recipient, preschool programs operated or administered by an LEA, preschool special education services, operated or funded by the LEA or mandated under the IDEA; preschool programs and services administered or funded by the LEA through use of Title I or similar grants or home-based early childhood educational services funded and administered by an LEA. National Center for Homeless Education (2015). Guide to Reporting Federal Data.