New protections for homeless students that officials hope will improve educational outcomes and graduation rates nationwide will take effect Oct. 1.
The changes flow from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Barack Obama in December. Many provisions are based on ideas that have been successful in school districts across the country, so the extent of the changes will vary from district to district, said Barbara Duffield, spokesperson for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth.
Two new protections, however, will impact most districts.
First, the law allows preschool students to stay enrolled in their school of choice despite housing instability, a right that was previously reserved for school-aged students.
Kids need the right to stay in their schools, particularly when it comes to preschool because, unlike primary and secondary schooling, not all districts offer preschool.
“Continuity is important for all homeless students,” Duffield said. “The same teacher, the same setting, the same structure. With homelessness, everything is chaos; there’s little stability. Young children need structure and consistency for social and emotional health.”
Second, the law requires creating a homeless student liaison position to support students through school.
Duffield believes that the new liaison position represents a critical support for homeless youth and also a place where, without proper education, school districts could fall flat by assigning liaison responsibilities as an additional duty to an existing employee rather than creating a new position.
“They need to acknowledge that this can’t be a job that’s assigned along with 10 other things that this person does,” she said.
The law also codifies and reaffirms other protections, such as requirements that school districts enroll students immediately, with or without required paperwork such as school transcripts or disciplinary records. It also allows students to sign up for school without their parents.
ESSA modifies the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well as the McKinney-Vento Act, a law originally passed in 1987 that includes grant money to maintain school stability for homeless youth.
Most of the changes it prescribes will come into play in 2017 and 2018.