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To whom should I speak about the education and needs of homeless children in my school district?

Each school district in Pennsylvania has someone designated as a homeless liaison/contact. You may call on this individual for assistance as needed, and the Superintendent's Office would be able to refer you to this person. Every school district is also covered by a McKinney-Vento Homeless Act regional site, and you may also contact the Site coordinator closest to your district. (See the list of project sites under Locations and Projects.)

To whom does the McKinney-Vento Act's Education Provision apply?

The provision applies to all homeless children and youth who are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education. Homeless children and youth include those living with or without their parents in a shelter (e.g. temporary family shelter, domestic violence shelter, runaway shelter), transitional housing, hotel or motel, campground, cars, or on the street. Also included are those children and youth temporarily living with relatives or friends (with or without their parents) because they do not have a fixed, regular, safe and adequate residence.

The local educational agency serving each child or youth to be assisted under this subtitle shall, according to the child's or youth's best interest-
"(i) continue the child's or youth's education in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness-
"(I) in any case in which a family becomes homeless between academic years or during an academic year; or
"(II) for the remainder of the academic year, if the child or youth becomes permanently housed during an academic year; or
"(ii) enroll the child or youth in any public school that nonhomeless students who live in the attendance area in which the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend."

NOTE: The law defines school of origin as "the school the child or youth attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled."

In Pennsylvania, who makes the final decision concerning what school a homeless student will attend?

The local educational agency (LEA) of each homeless child and youth makes school placement arrangements according to the child's or youth's best interests. In determining the best interests of the child or youth..., the local educational agency shall--

"(i) to the extent feasible, keep a homeless child or youth in the school of origin, except when doing so is contrary to the wishes of the child's or youth's parent or guardian;
"(ii) provide a written explanation, including a statement regarding the right to appeal under subparagraph (E), to the homeless child's or youth's parent or guardian, if the local educational agency sends such child or youth to a school other than the school of origin or a school requested by the parent or guardian; and
"(iii) in the case of an unaccompanied youth, ensure that the homeless liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii) assists in placement or enrollment decisions under this subparagraph, considers the views of such unaccompanied youth, and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal under subparagraph."

The choice regarding placement shall be made regardless of whether the child or youth lives with the homeless parents or has been temporarily placed elsewhere.

Can a school require proof of residency that might prevent or delay the enrollment of a homeless student?

No. The federal law requires that all homeless children and youth, including homeless preschoolers, be provided access to a free and appropriate public education. "Residence", traditionally equated with "domicile" (home), does not apply where homeless children and youth are concerned. They are presently unable to establish "homes" on a permanent basis.

Which Basis Education Circulars (BECs) offer important guidance regarding homeless students?

Basic Education Circulars (BECs) are issued by the Secretary of Education or the Deputy Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. BECs are statements of Pennsylvania Department of Education

Copies of BECs are available from the

Pennsylvania Department of Education
Division of Student Services
333 Market Street - 5th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333

You may order a copy at no charge by calling (717) 783-6466

Many homeless students arrive at a new school without any records. Can these children start in the new school before their records arrive?

Yes. The school selected in accordance with this paragraph shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, medical records, proof of residency, or other documentation.

"(ii) The enrolling school shall immediately contact the school last attended by the child or youth to obtain relevant academic and other records.

"(iii) If the child or youth needs to obtain immunizations, or immunization or medical records, the enrolling school shall immediately refer the parent or guardian of the child or youth to the local educational agency liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii), who shall assist in obtaining necessary immunizations, or immunization or medical records, in accordance with subparagraph (D).

"(D) Records.--Any record ordinarily kept by the school, including immunization or medical records, academic records, birth certificates, guardianship records, and evaluations for special services or programs, regarding each homeless child or youth shall be maintained--

If a homeless child is living in one district or attendance area and attending school in another district or attendance area, how do schools in Pennsylvania provide transportation?

The State and its (LEAs) are required to adopt policies and practices to ensure that transportation is provided, at the request of the parent or guardian (or in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the liaison), to and from the school of origin. If the homeless student continues to live in the area served by the LEA in which the school of origin is located, that LEA must provide or arrange transportation. If the homeless student moved to an area served by another LEA, though continuing his or her education at the school of origin, the LEA of origin and the LEA in which the student is living must agree upon a method to apportion responsibility and costs for transportation to the school of origin. If the LEAs cannot agree upon such a method, the responsibility and costs must be shared equally.

Insofar as it is feasible, transportation for homeless children is integrated with regular transportation service. When it is in the child's best interest to attend school in the original attendance area, and this district is different than the one in which the child or youth is residing, many Pennsylvania school districts are using the following to provide transportation:

  • Contracted vehicles (van, bus, etc.)
  • Nonpublic transportation routes
  • Cross district strategies by means of special education vans
  • Inter-district cooperation
  • Bus passes/tokens
  • Public transit including taxi service
  • Vehicles transporting tuition students

Districts that transport homeless students to the school/district of origin may submit, in accordance with Chapter 23, Regulations for Pupil Transportation, claims for reimbursement of district expenditures. Questions regarding reimbursement are directed to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pupil Transportation Section, ( 717) 787-3195.

What services must school districts provide homeless students?

The McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts to provide services to homeless students that are comparable to services provided to other students in the school district. Specifically, homeless students must have access to any educational services for which they otherwise are eligible including, transportation, programs for limited English proficient children, programs for gifted children and children with disabilities; also, free and reduced price meal programs, before and after school programs, and programs for preschool students offered by the district. Homeless students, who meet the educational criteria, are eligible to receive Title I services without regard to school residency requirements.

The educational provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act emphasize that homeless children and youth have the opportunity to meet the same challenging State student performance standards to which all students are held. Also, homelessness alone should not be sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment.

Which school district assumes the fiscal responsibilities for educating a homeless student?

The criteria for determining fiscal responsibility is outlined in Section VII of BEC 42 U.S.C. § 11301. Child accounting procedures will differ based on the school placement decision, i.e. school of origin vs. school where the child is actually living. If questions arise regarding these procedures, please contact the Division of Subsidy Data and Administration at PDE @ (717) 787-5423.

What can a parent do if a school refuses to enroll their child?

If a homeless child is not allowed to enroll in school, the parent or guardian can submit a letter to the state homeless coordinator at the Pennsylvania Department of Education requesting that the conflict resolution process be started. Click here to access a copy of the dispute letter.

Dispute letter - English (PDF)
Dispute letter - Spanish (PDF)

Whom should you contact for guidance?

For additional information, please contact:

Sheldon Winnick | State Coordinator
Pennsylvania Department of Education - Pennsylvania's Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program
333 Market Street, 5th Floor | Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717.783.6466
swinnick@pa.gov | www.education.state.pa.us