Prior to 1987 more than 50% of homeless children were not being given a formal education on a regular basis. In that year Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This act enables all children, regardless of income or social status can get a good education. For this Act the government had to define clearly what “homeless” meant. Once that was established several things were put into place:
- Grants must be issued by the U.S. Secretary of Education to the states for the education of homeless children.
- The states are to make sure that all children have equal access to a suitable education and they must ensure that they can fulfill this obligation.
- Each state must have a “Office of Coordinator for Education of Homeless Children and Youths” who will oversee data collection, and activities for the homeless children in their state. This office is also to disperse funding to local agencies for the education of homeless children.
- In 1994 it was added that all homeless preschool children have the right to a free preschool program.
- Also in 1994 the school systems were to begin working with the housing authorities on these issues.
- The definition of “homeless” was changed to take in children living with family members other than their parents or legal guardians. This also takes in those children that have had a loss of their housing, financial hard times, or other similar reasons.
- Homeless children are not to be segregated in anyway from other children in school.
- The schools have to provide transportation for the children no matter where they are coming from.
- If there arises a conflict about what school a child should go to, the parent chooses and the child attends that school until the conflict is resolved.
- Children should be placed where their needs are best met. They should be kept in their school of origin unless it is against the will of the parents.
The struggles of the homeless child are many. They deal with lack of nutrition, living conditions that can be sub-standard, lack of health care, transient living, and emotional stress. These issues away from school can cause struggles in their education. None of these obstacles is to big to overcome (educationally speaking) but the key is having the people in charge of our education system know the intricate details of what the children go through so that they are better able to get the resources together to help the children on an individual basis.