The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, passed in 1987, provided children without a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” some stability in the form of school.
Thanks to McKinney-Vento, children have the right to stay in their school of origin, despite the upheaval of homelessness. This means that even if kids have to move out of their original school district (because, for example, assistance is not available in that original district), students experiencing homelessness are able to continue attending their school. Because research has shown that students perform better when their school environment is stable, McKinney-Vento requires that school districts must provide transportation for the homeless student to the school of origin.
In recent recessionary years, the cost of bussing homeless students from shelter to school has been debated. States like Massachusetts have declared that they can no longer afford the cost of bussing; others have stopped paying for it outright. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recently released a report, “Beds Not Buses: Housing vs. Transportation for Homeless Students,” arguing that a focus on housing will benefit the student and community more, while also cutting the high cost of bussing.
More specifically, the report calls for communities and schools to work together to create more affordable housing, which will prevent children from becoming homeless in the first place. The Law Center analyzed data from the Seattle area and found that “the costs to house unaccompanied homeless youth in supportive housing, or to place a homeless family in a two bedroom apartment with a Section 8 voucher, are less than or equal to the likely costs associated with providing special transportation.”
This shifting focus requires collaboration from a number of key stakeholders, including school administrators, local government officials, students and parents, and affordable housing and homelessness prevention advocates.
But the benefit is real. Not only will school districts be able to stretch their limited funds farther, but investing in affordable housing measurably and practically ends homelessness for individuals and families.
Image by Asim Bharwani