Educating Homeless Children Youth in Texas

sad kid with backpack

Homelessness is traumatic for every member of the family, but especially so for children. As students, they face daily challenges in the classroom, while their parents face constant obstacles just to keep them in school. In order to help these families, Texas has adopted the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act. This federal law protects the educational rights of students experiencing homelessness and helps them receive the same free quality education children without this issue receive.

Teachers are often the first to notice the signs of homelessness in a student. The signs begin slowly with a constant lack or loss of school supplies or textbooks. Assignments are often unfinished and students rarely have money for special projects or programs. Teachers may notice the student wearing the same clothes often and hygiene becomes erratic. They frequently come to school suffering from various medical issues and fall asleep throughout the day. If these signs become persistent and severe, the teacher may notify the school's homeless education liaison.

The homeless education liaison will then begin an investigation into the student's living conditions. The student is determined to be homeless if he or she “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” and may only qualify to receive assistance under the McKinney-Vento Act if they meet this definition. In order to be sure they qualify, the liaison will gather as much information as possible from the student through questionnaires and, if necessary, in person interviews with the student and parents.

A student is considered homeless if his or her living situation falls into any of these places:

  • Hotels or motels
  • Campgrounds
  • Parks
  • Cars
  • Bus or train stations
  • Abandoned buildings
  • Public or private places not meant for human residence

They may also live in substandard housing with the following

  • Inadequate sanitation
  • Lack of heating or water
  • Pest or vermin infestation
  • Lack of utilities

Students are also considered homeless if they are staying with friends or family but may be asked to leave at any time.

If the student meets the qualifications for assistance, the liaison begins to work for his or her rights within the school. The McKinney-Vento Act declares that homeless students:

  • may enroll in school without documents otherwise necessary, such as proof of residency, immunization papers, birth certificates, or guardianship documents
  • may attend classes while the school works to gather necessary documents
  • may continue in the school they originally attended or choose a school that best fits their needs
  • are eligible for transportation, if necessary
  • are eligible for all programs, such as Head Start, Gifted and Talented, Special Education, and any tutoring programs available

The homeless education liaison also becomes the mail contact person between all of the organizations and services that may offer students and their families assistance, such as:

  • Medical and Dental care
  • Housing assistance and shelters
  • Food banks
  • Substance abuse treatment facilities, if necessary
  • Educational enrichment programs
  • Any other community and faith-based charities