Help For Homeless Children To Access Early Childhood Education

Apr 14, 2009

Children make up approximately half of the U.S. homeless population. An estimated 650,000 children under age 6 are homeless, representing nearly half (42 percent) of all homeless children. Homeless families face immense challenges sustaining children's routines, including daily school attendance. Moreover, children without housing or who are in temporary housing situations face severe barriers to physical and mental wellness. Consistent child care and early education arrangements can provide a secure environment for young children experiencing homelessness. Yet, less than 16 percent of eligible homeless children are enrolled in early education programs.

The Department of Education has announced the release of $70 million to states for the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and local educational agencies (LEAs) to ensure equal access for homeless children to public education, including public preschool education, and provides funds for activities to carry out that mission. For young children, this includes access to Head Start, Even Start, and referrals to health, mental health, dental, and other appropriate services. Guidance clarifies that these ARRA funds may be used for any allowable activities under the McKinney-Vento Act, including the provision of early education programs for young homeless children.

These funds provide an opportunity to identify and refer more homeless preschoolers for needed health, social, and early intervention services and to enroll more homeless children in early education programs. Moreover, this funding can complement other federal efforts to prioritize the needs of young homeless children. The 2007 reauthorization of Head Start ensured that homeless children are categorically eligible for Head Start services and are prioritized for services. Children who are homeless are also automatically eligible for Title I funded early education programs. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the Child Find early identification process include all homeless preschool children and that homeless children with known disabilities be located, identified, and evaluated.

States and LEAs should be thinking now about what steps they can put in place to ensure that McKinney-Vento funds are used to reach this vulnerable population and get services to our youngest children.

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