According to a recent study conducted by the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are approximately 1.5 million children in America that experience homelessness each year. Of these children 902,108 are school-aged and enrolled in school. Approximately seventy-eight percent of these enrolled children are in kindergarten through eighth grade, while the remaining twenty-two percent are in ninth through twelfth grade. Homelessness presents a number of obstacles to academic success. Without legislation aimed at lessening the negative effects that homelessness can have on a student’s academic performance, academic success (or even regular school attendance) can be nearly impossible for a student experiencing homelessness. Part I of this paper provides background information on the obstacles to academic success that stem from homelessness. Part II provides an overview of the mandates of Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Act and examines how it aims to eliminate these barriers to academic success. Part III critically examines the mandates of Title VII-B and the effectiveness of its implementation as measured by the 2006 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Report to the President and Congress on the implementation of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (EHCY) under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Based on the findings of this report, I will argue that there are three changes that must be made to increase the effectiveness of the Act’s implementation and to ensure that all children covered by the Act can receive its protections: 1) increase in funding, 2) increase in training, and 3) increase in the time local educational agency (LEA) homeless student liaisons have to devote to their McKinney-Vento responsibilities. Part IV of this paper briefly examines the content and inadequacies of Tennessee’s State Plan for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Finally, in Part IV of this paper I will present and discuss cases brought under the McKinney-Vento Act and the critical issues each raises regarding effective implementation of the Act.
I. The Effects of Homelessness on Academic Success
Homelessness can present numerous obstacles to academic success. Seven major barriers for students experiencing homelessness have been identified: transportation barriers; social barriers; legal barriers; financial barriers; bureaucratic barriers; health barriers, and familial barriers. Transportation is perhaps one of the most significant obstacles to academic success for children experiencing homelessness. When children experiencing homelessness move from their former residence to a temporary living arrangement they often move far from their previous residence and their “school of origin.” Unless a child has flexible transportation he or she will likely have to move to a different school with each change in temporary residence. Since the average stay in emergency shelters is typically thirty to forty days, many children experiencing homelessness could attend five to six schools a year. Experts believe that it takes a child four to six months to recover academically after changing schools. Furthermore, highly-mobile students have been found to have lower test scores and overall inferior academic performance than peers who do not change schools. A University of Chicago study found that, by sixth grade, students who had changed schools four or more times had lost approximately one year of educational growth. As these studies and statistics demonstrate, regular attendance in a stable academic environment is typically critical to a student’s academic performance. Homelessness can also create social barriers due to the resistance some children develop towards attending school while living in a homeless situation. Some children are ashamed that they are without a home and are afraid...