Homeless students have rights, but many of them have no idea what they are

Is there funding for extra-curricular activities under McKinney Vento for homeless students?

This question was asked during the Seattle/King County Coalition’s Annual McKinney-Vento 101 training on August 22nd.  Jess Lewis from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Katara Jordan from Columbia Legal Services spent 2 hours introducing and explaining the complex issues in McKinney-Vento legislation to close to 100 school staff and housing and homeless service providers.  The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to immediately register, transport and provide and pay for extra-curricular activities to homeless students.  There are more than 26,000 students in Washington state that qualify for McKinney-Vento services, and school districts must pay for these services whether or not they recieve funding under the law.  Most school districts do not receive this funding.  Washington State has 295 school districts.  Of those, 23 receive McKinney-Vento sub-grants.  If a student wants to participate in extra-curricular activities, the school district is required to address the barrier to full participation.  Often, school districts will look to community service providers, booster clubs, etc. to try and address the specific needs of students.  If other resources cannot be found, the school district is still required to find some way to address the barrier to participation.

Another common question service providers ask and school staff often find confusing is:

What is the distance that schools are required to transport kids to school? 

Many school personnel have been told  that schools will not transport kids out of their county. However, there is no specific distance or commute time mentioned in the McKinney-Vento Act when it comes to school of origin transportation.  So, a student attending school in Everett Public Schools, as an example, and finds shelter with her family in Seattle can continue attending her school in Everett if it is determined by all parties that this is best for the student.  The main consideration is whether or not it is in the student’s best interest to remain in their school of origin.  Because McKinney-Vento is a federal law, school districts often commute with students over county and state lines.  School of origin transportation should not be automatically declined because the student is currently staying in a different county.  The decision should be made on a case-by-case basis and the determination of best interest should be made based on the determination of whether or not it is feasible for the specific student.

For more information about McKinney-Vento and Resources check out these links:

http://www.k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/AssistanceAct.aspx

List of McKinney-Vento Liaison’s in all Washington School Districts

National Alliance to End Homelessness

1,204 Homeless Children Ready for School Thanks to Project Cool

Be Cool! Project Cool for Back to School 2012 Buttons

After months of preparation, we are celebrating the smooth and successful distribution of 1,204 Project Cool backpacks to homeless children across King County. This August, more than 150 awesome volunteers gathered together over 4 days in the basement of the Columbia City Church of Hope to prepare school supplies and then fill and distribute backpacks for homeless students ages 3 to 18. You guys ROCK! Last Tuesday, Project Cool backpacks went out to 14 different Coalition member agencies to support the education of the children they serve in their various homeless housing programs (including emergency shelter and transitional housing).

We know the need is great. In the 2010-2011 school year, 4,423 students (pre-k through high school) were identified as homeless in King County school districts; 26,049 students across all Washington State schools. This was a 19% increase from the previous year and a 55% increase from 2006-2007 (for more information visit http://schoolhousewa.org/). A new backpack filled with the tools students need tells kids that they belong and gives parents one less financial burden to bear.

Backpacks may be out the door, but the work to support the education of homeless students does not stop here. Seattle Public School starts in just a couple weeks on September 5. The instability of homelessness makes stability in school that much more important for children. Luckily, homeless students have several educational rights under an important federal law – the McKinney Vento Education Act –, which helps advocates and families keep children in school even if they don’t have the right paperwork to enroll or their address changes every 60 days. The Coalition’s August 22 “Helping Homeless Students: McKinney Vento 101” training will prepare school personnel and service providers to help homeless students stay in school.

Eric joined us on August 11 with the RBUCC Youth Group. Filling hundreds of backpacks with school supplies can be tiring work!

None of this work could be possible without the support of the hundreds of individuals who hosted donation drives, donated personally, and volunteered to help prepare backpacks. Project Cool is a volunteer driven project – coordinated by an AmeriCorps VISTA and supported by people like you: concerned community members, local businesses, and Coalition members. A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who came out on August 2, 4, 11, and 14 to help prepare Project Cool backpacks – we welcomed the passionate help of many community members including several old hats and Project Cool newbies like the Redmond Beach UCC Youth Group and members of local non-profit young professionals group, Ascend. THANK YOU!

Comment on HEARTH and McKinney Vento proposed changes

During our General Membership meeting yesterday, Kate Speltz did an amazing job walking our members through the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed changes to the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act as it relates to the Interim Continuum of Care (CoC) rule.  If you think this topic sounds esoteric, than you’re right.  This stuff is really complicated, but it’s also THE legislation that regulates significant funding for homeless prevention, housing, and services federally and at the state level through competitive grants.  The National Alliance to End Homelessness has done an admirable job summarizing the proposed changes and Kate pulled out the parts of the CoC rule which services providers and organizations who serve the homeless would be most impacted by.

The proposed CoC rule will go into effect on August 30th and individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit comments to HUD before October 1, 2012.  Kate is interested in receiving comments from providers and organizations which will help to inform the Seattle-King County response to the proposal, however she encourages all concerned individuals to comment directly to HUD.  Here are two areas in the proposal that Kate thinks service providers and homeless and housing advocates might like to comment on:

  • McKinney Vento allowable funding. The current proposal specifically identifies which services can be paid for with McKinney funding. You are encouraged to review that list for services that you believe are important. Interpretation services, for example, are not currently included in the list.  We know that many housing and homeless service organizations rely heavily on interpretive services when assessing, screening and serving homeless individuals.
  • This proposal also requires states to setup and use a centralized or coordinated assessment system for all people entering the homeless assistance system by the end of 2014.  It isn’t completely clear what it means to coordinate assessment, but the deadline is set.  You might want to comment on the approach and/or the time frame.

If you want to send your comments to King County email them to: DCHS@kingcounty.gov

Send comments directly to HUD through the Federal Regulations website.