Over 1.3 million children and youth in America’s public schools were homeless last year. That number has doubled since the 2006-2007 school year, and is up approximately 8 percent over the last year. Surprising to some, less than 20 percent of these students are clearly eligible for homeless assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The other 80 percent, who are staying mostly in run-down motels or staying at other people’s homes because they have nowhere else to go, are not able to easily access HUD services. While the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 256/H.R. 576) would amend the federal definitions of homelessness to ensure consistency across agencies as well as access to service for all individuals in need, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) presents another opportunity to improve outcomes for homeless students.

Homeless children and youth face unique barriers to academic success and personal health and safety. These students are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and leave school before graduating. Unstable living conditions can also lead homeless students to transfer schools more frequently than their peers, often contributing to higher rates of truancy and lower test scores. Research shows that unaccompanied homeless youth suffer from disproportionately high rates of physical and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and parental drug and alcohol abuse.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized in 2002, ensures that homeless students have access to supportive, quality schools and receive tailored educational services. Under this piece of federal legislation, school districts are required to designate liaisons to identify and assist homeless students throughout the school year. Without easy access to HUD services, 1.1 million homeless children and youth rely on schools not just for educational assistance, but also for a way out of their current situations. For this reason, the reauthorization of ESEA, especially the McKinney-Vento Act and Title I Part A, is a vital opportunity for Congress to do right by America’s homeless children and youth by improving provisions that identify and serve homeless students in schools.

Although the House (Student Success Act, H.R. 5) and Senate (Every Child Achieves Act, S. 1177) have both passed their respective versions of an ESEA reauthorization that include important provisions to strengthen services for homeless students, there is still an opportunity for further improvement as the differences in the bills are reconciled in conference. It is essential that the conference keeps the bipartisan Senate amendments that provide McKinney-Vento school district liaisons with specific training and authorization on federal homelessness definitions and available services (sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rob Portman (R-OH)) and require state report cards, including graduation rates for homeless students, intact in the final bill.

The news out of Capitol Hill has been dominated by budget deals to avoid a shutdown and Speaker Boehner’s resignation over the last week; however, ESEA reauthorization will certainly be a major priority for both chambers moving forward this fall. As negotiations for a final bill continue, the House and Senate must ensure that the 1.3 million homeless students in America’s public schools receive the essential supports they need to succeed in school and later on in life.

How Congress can improve outcomes for homeless students: http://bit.ly/1VnJDfW v/ @Campaign4Kids #HCYA #InvestInKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on education and housing.

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