A Brief Breakdown of the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act

A Brief Breakdown of the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act
  • Opening Intro -

    The McKinney-Vento Assistance Act is a federal law that functions to protect the educational rights of students without steady shelter.


Familiarity with the Act is just one of the ways teachers can support students experiencing homelessness, as well as communities. Since President Ronald Regan signed the McKinney-Vento legislation into law in 1987, it’s undergone several reauthorizations and revisions to further include educational stability for children who experience homelessness.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of what this legislation entails, peruse a brief breakdown of the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act.

Who Qualifies for Its Protection?

The McKinney-Vento Act uses the Illinois statute in defining children experiencing homelessness—any student lacking “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” The guidelines of students who would fall under this definition include the following:

  • Students living with others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.
  • Those living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds due to lack of alternative shelter.
  • Those living in emergency shelters or traditional housing.
  • Students whose nighttime residence is not a typical sleeping accommodation (e.g. bus stations, cars, park benches, etc.).

What Are the Core Protections and Services Ensured?

A brief breakdown of the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act would be barren without discussing the different ways that legislation supports students experiencing homelessness.

Enrollment and Participation

  • Students without stable housing can enroll and start in school whether they can relay normally required documents or not.
  • Students who are experiencing homelessness are still eligible and can be accepted right away despite missing application or enrollment deadlines.
  • Academic and extracurricular programs must be fully accessible to students who are experiencing homelessness. States must have procedures that prevent barriers to their access.

College Readiness

  • Schools must remove obstacles that prevent students from achieving adequate credit for full or partial coursework from a prior school.
  • State plans must outline how youth who are homeless can attain assistance from school counselors to ensure maximum college readiness per student.

School Stability

  • Should they prefer it, students experiencing homelessness can remain enrolled in one school, despite temporary relocation to a different school district.
  • Schools must provide transportation to accommodate until the end of the academic year.

How Does the McKinney-Vento Act Work at Different Agency Levels?

At the State Agency Level

State educational agencies (SEA) are required to designate an Office of State Coordinator to carry out duties in the McKinney-Vento Act. Their responsibilities include:

  • Answering questions posed by parents who are experiencing homelessness and unaccompanied youth.
  • Putting development programs in place for liaisons and other involved positions.
  • Verifying that LEAs enforce compliance.
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At the Local Agency Level

Local educational agencies (LEA) must appoint a liaison for students experiencing homelessness. Their key duties are:

  • Assuring that local youth experiencing homelessness are enrolled in the curriculum and have full access to developmental programs.
  • Engaging in professional development and other state-provided assistance, ensuring that school staff receives similar support.
  • Informing students experiencing homelessness about services they may need outside of school (e.g. mental, dental, or general health).

Informing yourself about the McKinney-Vento Assistance Act is valuable should you or anyone you know experience homelessness and need stability to maintain an educational career. The information is equally valid should you be considering careers in education or social work.

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