Although it is difficult to determine the actual number of homeless children in the United States, the numbers rise dramatically each year, and today researchers point at thousands of children who grow under pressure of complicated socioeconomic conditions associated with homelessness. During the past 30 years, the number of homeless children in the United States increased significantly, leading to a social catastrophe in the sphere of education.
Thus, today school-aged children represent 20% of the homeless population in the country (Wilson & Squires, 2014, p. 259). Referring to the statistical data on the 2007-2008 school year, “794,617 homeless students” were enrolled in public schools, and these numbers not only illustrate the scale of the problem but also point at the attempts of the US authorities to resolve the issue (Groton, Teasley, & Canfield, 2013, p. 38). From this perspective, homelessness is a challenge for American society because homeless children are deprived of the basic resources for their successful growth and development.
Thousands of homeless children in the United States face barriers associated with the lack of opportunities to attend schools in towns and cities where they do not live permanently, and they cannot improve academic performance. Homeless children are highly mobile, and this fact is a barrier to resolving the problem of school enrollment and attendance (Cunningham, Harwood, & Hall, 2010, p. 2). Furthermore, experiencing homelessness, children suffer from a range of psychological and behavioral problems which are also caused for poor academic performance (Julianelle, 2008, p. 3).
These children also demonstrate inadequate social skills which prevent them from building successful relationships at school. Therefore, the authorities concentrated on addressing the public demands and on developing the public policy responding to the problem of children’s homelessness and homeless children’s education.
In order to address the problem of homeless children’s education, it is necessary to create effective definitions of homelessness and provide homeless children with the opportunities to attend schools without depending on the permanent local address. The McKinney Act of 1987 became the response to the problem of children’s homelessness in US society. The act and educational program were reauthorized by Congress in 2001 as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act (Miller, 2013, p. 807; National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 2). The focus was on revising the requirements related to the permanent address, discussing the issue of transitional housing, and addressing questions associated with the education of homeless children in the United States.
The purpose of this research is to provide the overview and analysis of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act with the focus on its effectiveness in resolving the problem of homeless children’s education in US society. In order to conclude about the effectiveness of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act as a public policy, it is necessary to present the discussion of the policy formation and scale, analyze the impact and strategic implementation of the policy, and refer to the communication of the policy to the public. The research paper also aims to provide effective recommendations regarding the improvement of the policy in order to address the issue of homeless children’s education with references to the escalating numbers which demonstrate the progress of homelessness in the US society.
Statement of the Problem
The education of students belonging to problematic social groups is discussed as a challenge for communities. Homelessness is one of the most important factors which prevent children from successful psychological, intellectual, and moral development. According to Losinski and the group of researchers, the most common “enrollment barriers for children and youth who are homeless are transportation, immunization requirements, residency requirements, provision of birth certificates, and legal guardianship requirements” (Losinski, Katsiyannis, & Ryan, 2013, p. 94). Moreover, barriers preventing homeless students from receiving education include the high level of mobility, domestic violence, and health problems.
Homeless families have to move from place to place frequently, and this situation causes frequent school absences and poor academic performance (Shields & Warke, 2010, p. 790). Domestic violence and complicated socioeconomic conditions of homeless families prevent children from attending schools regularly. Homeless children can suffer from living in families with violent parents and with family members suffering from alcohol or drug abuse (Groton et al., 2013, p. 38; Miller, Pavlakis, & Bourgeois, 2013, p. 8). As a result of regular psychological and social pressure, homeless children demonstrate poor academic achievements and can suffer from different types of learning disabilities.
Inadequate living conditions cause homeless children’s problems with health which also influence students’ academic performance. Inappropriate nutrition and the lack of necessary hygiene cause a lot of health problems that prevent students from focusing on their learning activities. Groton and the group of researchers state that “high mobility resulting in poor attendance can lead to a lack of adequate attention to health issues” (Groton et al., 2013, p. 41). Severe health conditions and the lack of access to health care providers prevent children from attending schools and demonstrating high results in their study.
Behavioral problems are another set of barriers in the sphere of education in relation to homeless children. Living in the streets and shelters, homeless children develop their own behavioral scenarios the main goal of which is to cope with risks and different threats and survive in problematic situations. Miller notes that “students who experience homelessness are, for instance, affected to a much greater extent by social/behavioral dilemmas and are much more likely to be placed at risk of academic failure than other students” (Miller, 2011, p. 427). Thus, many homeless children are aggressive, and they reject to build successful relations at school.
That is why homeless students often feel uncomfortable in school settings and refuse to attend schools where they cannot demonstrate adequate academic successes and required social skills. More social support should be provided at school in order to address the problems of homeless children.
As a result, referring to the role of homelessness in affecting children’s education, it is necessary to concentrate on such negative factors and aspects as poor academic performance, inadequate social skills, absenteeism, high dropout rates, behavioral problems, needs in social support, and special education services because of learning disabilities (Wilson & Squires, 2014, p. 260). The problem is in the necessity to provide homeless children with equal opportunities to attend chosen schools, and the focus should be on revising the enrolment requirements. It is necessary to create the conditions for students to improve their academic performance. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is designed to address these aspects while based on social and educational theories.
In recent years, researchers have concentrated on discussing the effectiveness of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act for resolving the issue of homelessness in the sphere of children’s education and development. Following surveys and researches, homeless children in the United States are characterized by unstable living conditions; they experience problems with health and limited access to health care support; they experience difficulties associated with academic performance; and homelessness has a negative impact on these students’ psychological state (Miller et al., 2013, p. 8; Shields & Warke, 2010, p. 789).
Therefore, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act was reauthorized and implemented in order to address the problem of homeless children’s education in the United States in 2001 (Miller, 2011, p. 426). However, few evaluations of the act’s effectiveness in the area of academic achievements are presented in peer-reviewed journals referring to the period of a decade.
The effectiveness of the McKinney-Vento Act in resolving the issue of homeless children’s education is based on the appropriateness of the policy in order to cope with such challenges of homelessness as homeless families’ mobility, instability, students’ poor academic performance, and the need for special education services (Shields & Warke, 2010, p. 789). According to Groton and the group of researchers, the points presented in the McKinney-Vento Act address the mentioned problems directly and provide effective solutions, but the additional regulation of the implementation strategy is necessary in order to guarantee the policy’s effectiveness (Groton et al., 2013, p. 38).
The problems in measuring the effectiveness of the McKinney-Vento Act are also caused by the absence of appropriate methods designed for measuring the results of the McKinney-Vento Act’s implementation (Canfield, Teasley, Abell, & Randolph, 2012, p. 410). Furthermore, Wilson and Squires state in their research that the success in implementing the McKinney-Vento Act depends on developing the school-based social services necessary for facilitating the policy’s provision (Wilson & Squires, 2014, p. 260).
Losinski, Katsiyannis, and Ryan also focused on finding the answer to the problem of difficulties associated with the McKinney-Vento Act’s implementation. It was found that social school workers often had no opportunity to select accurate data regarding homeless children, and they needed more support to work with homeless children (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 92). From this perspective, the McKinney-Vento Act can be discussed as an effective attempt to address the issue of homeless students’ education with references to the years of its usage in the educational area, but the problems associated with the policy’s implementation still remain to be unresolved.
Analyzing the role of the McKinney-Vento Act in resolving the issue of homeless children’s education, Miller determines a range of advantages of the Act. These advantages include the clear statement of homelessness with references to the social situation in the United States; the provision of opportunities for students to choose a school to attend because of the high mobility; the improvement of the transportation question; and the provision of the social support for homeless children at schools (Miller, 2011, p. 426).
In spite of the fact that the Act is effectively designed to address the determining issue of homelessness, there are still drawbacks in implementing the Act and using its guidelines at district schools. In his article of 2011, Miller refers to the inter-and intra-organizational barriers which need to be overcome (Miller, 2011, p. 445). In the research of 2013, Miller develops the idea that the McKinney-Vento Act has a limited impact on the homeless children’s performance at schools because of the lack of necessary changes in the implementation strategies (Miller, 2013, p. 805).
The researcher focuses on revising the approaches to funding and on improving the approaches associated with inter-organizational collaboration (Miller, 2013, p. 810). Therefore, to make the policy more widespread and effective, it is necessary to pay more attention to revising the approaches followed at the implementation stage in order to address the escalating rates of homelessness in the United States with the focus on improving the school environments.
In their research of 2012, Hendricks and Barkley noted that the McKinney-Vento Act contributed significantly to improving the social sphere related to the homeless children’s education, but the act was ineffective in order to improve the students’ academic performance significantly. In order to support their hypothesis about the effectiveness of the act, the researchers compared the academic achievements of several groups of students, including homeless children, and concluded that there were no significant differences in the students’ scores (Hendricks & Barkley, 2012, p. 179).
From this perspective, one of the McKinney-Vento Act’s weaknesses is the impossibility to directly improve the students’ academic achievements and resolve a problem of the poor academic performance. Still, the McKinney-Vento Act is an appropriate response to resolving the issue of the homeless preschoolers’ education (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, p. 38; Julianelle, 2008, p. 3). That is why the approaches to the public policy’s implementation play a critical role in determining the policy’s effectiveness.
Policy Formation and Scale of Policy
The McKinney Act was passed by Congress in 1987 in order to address the social issue of homelessness in the United States. The original document aimed to address all the aspects of homelessness in general. The act included nine Titles to resolve questions associated with the problem of homelessness in all social spheres. In spite of the fact that Title VII addressed the problem of the homeless children’s education in the United States among the other issues, the proposed regulations were incomplete to resolve the issue (U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p. 2). Amendments of 1994 improved Title VII and revised proposed educational programs.
The revised program “granted local education agencies (LEAs) more flexibility in the use of funds, identified the rights of homeless preschoolers to a free and appropriate public education, and required educational authorities to coordinate with housing authorities” (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 93). In 2000, the McKinney Act was renamed, and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act became named after Stewart B. McKinney and Bruce Vento, the active supporters of the act in Congress (Julianelle, 2008, p. 2; Miller, 2011, p. 426). The purpose of the revised McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act was to state the right to equal education for all social groups of students, including homeless children.
Discussing the scale of the policy, it is important to pay attention to the aspects regulated by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act. One of the most important provisions was the definition of homelessness and focusing on situations in which students can be discussed as homeless. According to Sec. 725.2 of the Act, the term ‘homeless children and youths’ means “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” and includes such categories as children who live in hotels, trailer parks, transitional shelters; who have “a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for” regular sleeping; who live in cars and public spaces; and who are migratory children (The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 2013).
The provision of the effective definition of homelessness was an important part of the policy’s development process because there was a lack of the widely used legal definition of a homeless student.
The second important provision was the focus on the immediate enrollment for all homeless children. According to Sec. 722. c.a, “The school selected … shall immediately enroll the homeless child or youth, even if the child or youth is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment” (The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 2013). The Act states that homeless children are not required to provide school records, immunization records, or records to state the permanent address. Homeless children also have the opportunity to receive the complete social support and assistance of liaisons at school (Groton et al., 2013, p. 39).
Furthermore, following the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, homeless students received rights to attend schools of origin or schools of their choice and use the necessary transportation services (Hendricks & Barkley, 2012, p. 179). The provision of continual transportation for homeless students was the authorities’ response to the problem of mobility and financial shortages in relation to the homeless families. The focus on appointing a liaison for a homeless student was an attempt to address the problem of the homeless student’s adaptation to the school settings.
Impact and Strategic Implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act in the USA and the States’ Response
The reauthorized variant of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act presented in 2001 attracted the public’s attention because of significant changes in the policy adopted in 1987. The principles stated in the document influenced the strategic implementation of the policy. The first stage of the implementation process was the collection of data on the number of homeless children living in states and school districts. The gathered data became the source for organizing the work of schools in states in order to implement the principles of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p. 3). According to the act, all states became responsible for appointing a state coordinator in the sphere of education and work with homeless students.
The implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act’s statements was associated with the process of reorganizing local educational agencies (LEAs) in order to provide homeless students with liaisons. Schools referred to the ideas of the McKinney-Vento Act while improving the technical assistance in relation to LEAs and developing the social assistance and support for students (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 94).
Having implemented the principles of the McKinney-Vento Act and important requirements, district schools in states focused on creating a stable school environment, and the first stage was the identification of homeless students who needed social and academic support. The second stage was the decision-making process as a result of which homeless students were immediately enrolled in the school of origin or in the school of choice, following the interests and needs of a homeless student (Canfield et al., 2012, p. 411; National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 5). In spite of referring to the same requirements, district schools used different strategies to implement the public policy, and their approaches influenced the effectiveness of the program’s realization.
States responded to the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act presented in 2001 by a range of adaptations of the principles provided in the Act to the states’ realities. The main focus was on the collaboration of homeless students and liaisons because of the lack of resources to fund the prolonged assistance and support at school (Miller, 2011, p. 425). States chose to focus on adapting their budgets to the system of Grants proposed by the program and to the main changes presented in the McKinney-Vento Act, but lack of funding still remains one of the major problems associated with the implementation of policy in districts.
The problem is in the necessity to address the assistance and transpiration costs (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, p. 39). As a result, homeless students in many districts are not provided with transportation services, and many schools experience difficulties in organizing the work of liaisons because of shortages in financial resources to cover investigations, tests, and consultation sessions.
The general impact of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act on changing the situation related to the homeless children’s education was positive. Referring to the history of the act’s implementation in the US society since 1987, it is possible to observe the increase in “school attendance rates by 17%” in 2001 and by more than 25% in 2010 (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 93; Miller, 2011, p. 431). From this point, it is possible to conclude that the policy provided effective solutions to the basic problems associated with bureaucratic rules in the enrollment process.
Communication of the Policy to the General Public
The original McKinney Act was initially passed in 1987, and it was amended several times during the 1990s and 2000s in order to address the changes in US society. In spite of the fact that the original document was positively evaluated by the public, school officials, and social workers, the series of amendments in the 1990s added to increasing the act’s effectiveness in resolving the problem of homelessness in the US society.
The amendments of 1990 and 1992 added new programs to the act and improved the implemented policies (Julianelle, 2008, p. 3). The amendment of 1994 was important for the sphere of education because of provided more flexibility to the state and district authorities (Miller, 2011, p. 426). Thus, authorities in states received more rights in planning the budget in order to cover the expenses associated with the implementation of the McKinney Act.
The beginning of the 2000s demonstrated that more critical amendments were necessary for the part of the McKinney Act associated with the education of homeless children because of extremely increased rates of homelessness in the country’s states. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act was reauthorized in 2001 as part of the No Child Left Behind Act (Miller, 2011, p. 428). An important list of changes was added to the document, including the enrollment standards and the focus on the education of preschool homeless children (National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 8; The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 2013).
In spite of the fact that the wide public discussed the Act as interesting and promising for resolving the issue, the main problem associated with the public opinion and understanding of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act was the problem of informing parents about the Act’s principles. Today, parents in homeless families often do not know about the services provided with references to the Act (Cunningham et al., 2010, p. 3). Moreover, these parents often choose not to identify their families as homeless in order to avoid co-working with different types of social organizations.
One more problem associated with the communication of the policy to the public is an inability of the school staff to identify homeless students in communities. This problem is closely associated with such issues as the social workers and officials’ inabilities to become aware of the Act’s requirements and standards and provide homeless students with immediate enrollment in schools according to the Act’s statements (National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 8; The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 2013).
Furthermore, such mistakes in the policy’s implementation as the absence of transportation services for homeless students in many districts of the states make the public discuss the policy as ineffective and incomplete in order to address the problem of homelessness in the US society in spite of a range of amendments (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, p. 39; National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 8; U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p. 3). As a result, the failures in planning the implementation process and inadequate work of school personnel led to discussing the policy as ineffective and limited.
Overall Effectiveness of the Policy
The evaluation of the policy’s effectiveness is one of the main tasks of public administrators, and the evaluators’ conclusions are important to be used to improve the policy in order to address the social issues. The McKinney-Vento Act should be discussed as one of the most effective federal responses to the problem of homelessness in the educational sphere because the Act provides a range of initiatives and principles necessary to organize the homeless children’s enrollment in schools (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 94; National Center for Homeless Education, 2007, p. 8).
The policy can also be considered as effective to address the problematic social situation in the US society because of provides clear definitions and guidelines to determine which students should be considered as homeless students and what strategies to use in order to educate this category of students.
Being revised in 2001, today the McKinney-Vento Act is an effective tool to improve the academic performance of homeless students. In addition to increasing academic grades, homeless students also received the opportunity to have the continual support and assistance of specialists in the educational and social areas (Miller, 2011, p. 428; The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 2013; Wilson & Squires, 2014, p. 260). Following the data on academic performance in schools in the country’s states and districts, it is important to refer to the improvement in the students’ academic achievements by more than 20% during the period of 1990s-2000s (Miller, 2013, p. 810; U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p. 4). These data support the idea that the McKinney-Vento Act serves the public needs in the sphere of homeless children’s education.
The McKinney-Vento Act contributed to developing a less-ambiguous environment in the educational sphere because of proposed a clear definition of the concept of homelessness. The principles presented in the document also contributed to reorganizing the bureaucratic system of enrolling in schools which prevented thousands of homeless children from receiving equal education because of their mobility. Additionally, the further improvements in the system and progress of the McKinney-Vento Act are actively financially supported by the government. Thus, in 2009, Congress “awarded a one-time $70 million supplement to the program (in addition to the nearly $65 million appropriations)” (Losinski et al., 2013, p. 94).
Furthermore, “over 472,300 students were reported served by McKinney-Vento subgrants in 2007-08, a 23% increase from SY2006-07” (National Center for Homeless Education., 2007, p. 2). These numbers illustrate positive changes in the sphere of homeless students’ education as the vulnerable category of the US school-aged population.
The McKinney-Vento Act is discussed by researchers and specialists in the field of education as advantageous for the educational sphere because of refers to the problem of homelessness in relation to preschool-aged children. It is rather difficult to identify preschool-aged homeless children, and the revised document addresses the needs of this category of the US population (Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, p. 39; Shields & Warke, 2010, p. 789). Much attention should be paid to revising the current documents and regulations in the area, and the McKinney-Vento Act should be discussed as an effective method used in order to resolve the complex problem of homeless children’s education.
Homelessness is an important problem for US society, and the increasing number of homeless school-aged children demonstrates the necessity to address the issue effectively. Thus, homelessness can prevent children from receiving education because homeless students often avoid attending schools, they suffer from behavioral problems, these children cannot build effective relations with classmates and teachers, and they choose to demonstrate poor academic performance because of the role of such factors as instability and mobility. The McKinney-Vento Act was developed to address the problem of homelessness in the United States, and it was initially passed in 1987.
The program related to the education of homeless students was reauthorized in 2001. The revised version of the document included the clarified definition of homelessness; statements about the immediate enrollment of homeless children in schools and statements about the choice of schools; statements about the provision of necessary transportation; and ideas about guaranteeing the social support for homeless students while appointing liaisons.
The implementation of the policy in the states was realized with the focus on additional funding and appointing state coordinators in order to control the implementation process. In spite of problems and financial barriers associated with covering expenses related to transportation and liaisons’ services, the realization of the McKinney-Vento Act had positive results for the development of homeless students. The number of homeless students enrolled in schools according to the principles of the McKinney-Vento Act increased significantly. Thousands of homeless students received the opportunity to attend schools and refer to the necessary assistance and support in order to resolve the problems associated with the families’ impact and severe socioeconomic factors.
The areas which should be improved in relation to the implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act as an effective public policy include the improvement of the social workers’ training and the improvement of compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act’s requirements in school districts. According to Groton and the group of researchers, “lack of knowledge among school social workers concerning group dynamics within their service areas can be a barrier to intervention. It is often necessary for school social workers to work with family members in order to achieve positive youth outcomes” (Groton et al., 2013, p. 41).
The problem is in the fact that social workers and liaisons demonstrate the lack of knowledge of the McKinney-Vento Act’s principles, and they cannot identify homeless students, their needs and interests while limiting the policy’s implementation. As a result, the category of homeless preschoolers is also underrepresented in many states’ schools.
In order to influence the social workers’ awareness of the homeless students’ needs, it is necessary to focus on the following recommendations:
- appoint or hire the sufficient staff in order to educate school officials about the McKinney-Vento Act’s principles and requirements;
- reorganize plans and schedules in order to provide the appropriate in-service training for liaisons and social workers in school districts;
- focus on providing the additional training for parents in order to involve them in realizing the ideas of the education program for homeless students because of the lack of awareness of declared rights;
- improve the data collection methods in schools in districts in order to identify homeless students appropriately;
- remove the intra-organizational barriers while focusing on the collaboration of social workers, teachers, and parents;
- develop additional programs to improve the academic performance of homeless students in the context of the McKinney-Vento Act (Hendricks & Barkley, 2012, p. 180; Jozefowicz-Simbeni & Israel, 2006, p. 40; Losinski et al., 2013, p. 95; Miller, 2013, p. 820).
These recommendations can serve to improve the realization of the McKinney-Vento Act’s principles and requirements in different states and school districts.
The McKinney-Vento Act can be discussed as the landmark legislation which reformed the approaches to the education of homeless students in the United States. The valuable act provided a range of propositions to improve the situation regarding the education of such a vulnerable and unprotected category of the US society as homeless children. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is a specific federal law that guarantees immediate enrollment for homeless students while focusing on the idea of the educational stability of all children in the United States. The McKinney-Vento Act is also an effective initiative because the policy guarantees the additional federal funding provided to states in order to support district and local educational programs oriented to address the needs of homeless students.
Referring to the advantages and benefits of the McKinney-Vento Act, it is important to state that the policy contributed to minimizing the impact of mobility and family’s instability on the homeless students’ academic achievements; the Act changed the timely resolution regarding the children’s enrollment with the idea of the immediate enrollment; the Act provided homeless children with the additional assistance and support while addressing the tendencies of segregation and discrimination in the American schools, and the Act enabled states to become more flexible in financing state-level activities and organizing programs for the homeless children.
As a result, the McKinney-Vento Act can be discussed as an effective public policy that responded to the problem of education of homeless children in the US society and proposed effective practical solutions to the issue.
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