Full Participation in Extracurricular Activities for Students Experiencing Homelessness

This resource explains the McKinney-Vento Act requirements and provides examples of state policies to help implement them.

Download the PDF

Participating in extracurricular school activities has been shown to increase student engagement, high school graduation, and later success in life – particularly for disadvantaged students. Yet homelessness creates significant barriers to participation in athletics and other extracurricular activities. Fortunately, federal law – the McKinney-Vento Act – includes strong policies to remove barriers to participation in extracurricular activities.

This resource explains the McKinney-Vento Act requirements and provides examples of state policies to help implement them.

Template for Verifying Homeless and Foster Care Status for Athletics

⚙️A template for school districts to provide athletic directors and associations with determinations of a youth’s homeless status of foster care status. [1]

Several studies have found that students who participate in activity programs have higher grade-point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than students generally. They have lower rates of drug use and teen pregnancy.

These benefits are amplified for disadvantaged students: a study in the Harvard Educational Review found that participation in extracurricular activities in high school appears to be one of the few interventions that benefit disadvantaged students as much or more than their more advantaged peers.[2] In fact, research even indicates that participation in high school activities is often a predictor of later success – in college, a career and later life outcomes.[3] Extracurricular activities are extremely important for students experiencing homelessness, whether on their own or with their family. Sports and clubs nurture youth’s self-esteem and teach them critical skills and values such as teamwork, leadership, goal-setting, commitment and respect. Extracurricular activities often open doors to college admission and scholarships. They offer a surrogate family for youth estranged from their parents. For students who lose their housing, extracurricular activities offer an oasis of stability, predictability and normalcy in the midst of the chaos of homelessness.

Unfortunately, homelessness itself creates significant barriers to participation in athletics and other extracurricular activities. One of the most common is related to mobility. As homelessness forces students to move from one temporary living situation to another, the student may be unable to meet the state high school athletic/activity association’s residency or attendance requirements to participate in activities. For example:

Participation requirements that work well to limit unfair competition in ordinary circumstances do not address the reality of homelessness and add to homeless students’ list of losses: home, school, and cherished athletic or other activity. Ultimately, these requirements may cause youth to lose opportunities for higher education or even to drop out of school.

Using ARP-HCY Funds to Support Participation in Extracurricular Activities

On September 13, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague Letter” to Chief State School Officers that updates the allowable uses of American Rescue Plan Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds. It clarifies that ARP-HCY funds may be used to support participation in extracurricular activities. For example:

  • ARP-HCY funds may be used to support transportation for children and youth to participate in clubs and sports. This includes providing gas cards, public transportation passes, limited car repairs (when reasonable and necessary), or taxi services.
  • ARP-HCY funds may be used to purchase store cards for needed items to participate in clubs and sports, including supplies such as clothing, shoes, and hygiene products. Funds may also be used to cover participation dues or fees.
  • ARP-HCY funds may be used to provide food assistance to assist students in taking advantage of extracurricular opportunities when food is not available. This could include students who are traveling with teams or clubs. Funds may also be used to provide snacks for students during extracurricular activities.

More information on the ARP-HCY Dear Colleague Letter can be found here.

The McKinney-Vento Act requires states and local educational agencies to eliminate these barriers and to ensure that students experiencing homelessness who meet eligibility criteria, such as academic and skill levels, can participate fully in athletic and other extracurricular activities.

State Policies on Extracurricular Activities

Arkansas incorporated the McKinney-Vento Act’s requirements into their written state school athletics association’s procedures. It passed the Right to Play Act in 2023, which states “… A student who is considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento 10 Homeless Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11431 et seq., as it existed on January 1, 2023, shall be immediately eligible to participate in interscholastic activities at the school in which he or she is enrolled.”

In summary, policies to ensure fairness, equity and safety are extremely important. Yet, students who lose their housing should not have to lose their athletic and other activities as well. The McKinney-Vento Act includes safeguards to prevent fraud. Clear high school athletic/activity association policies can ensure appropriate action in cases of fraud, compliance with federal law, and most importantly, fair opportunities for youth facing the tragedy of homelessness.


[1] Although students in foster care are not covered by the McKinney-Vento Act, some state policies provide similar protections and exemptions to allow foster youth to participate in extracurricular activities.
[2] All data from: National Federation of State High School Associations (2008). The Case for High School Activities, citing several different academic studies.
[3] National Federation of State High School Associations (2008).
[4] See, e.g., Brentwood Acad. v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass’n., 531 U.S. 288, 297 (2001).
[5] 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(3)(C).
[6] 42 U.S.C. §11434A(1).
[7] 42 U.S.C. §§11432(g)(1)(I), 11432(g)(7).
[8] 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(F)(iii).
[9] 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1)(J)(ii).
[10] 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(6)(A)(i).
[11] 42 U.S.C. §§11432(d)(3), (5); 42 U.S.C. §§11432(f)(5)-(6).