As state legislative sessions come to a close throughout the country, SchoolHouse Connection and our partners are celebrating major state policy wins for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Every year, our team undertakes legislative advocacy campaigns with talented and passionate state and local advocates. In 2021, to date, we worked with advocates in California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas.
The victories in Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, and New Mexico are especially noteworthy, and are summarized below. These wins represent the range of state reforms that can pave the way out of homelessness and into lifelong success.
Minor Consent to Housing and Removing Barriers to High School Graduation
In Montana, Senate Bill 17 empowers young people under the age of 18 to sign leases and enter into contracts for housing. The measure passed both chambers unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte on March 2, 2021. Senate Bill 18 allows students to earn a state diploma without meeting school district-specific requirements if the student experienced educational disruption in high school due to homelessness, child welfare, juvenile justice system involvement, a medical or mental health crisis, or other qualifying event. The bill was signed by Governor Gianforte on March 26, 2021.
Access to Birth Certificates
In New Mexico, House Bill 179 allows for children and youth experiencing homelessness to access their vital records free of charge. The bill allows for an unaccompanied youth, aged twenty-five and younger, to submit an application for a copy of their birth certificate and to receive a certified copy of their birth record without needing an adult’s signature. The law was signed into effect on March 14, 2021.
Addressing Disproportionality in Student Discipline and Promoting Restorative Justice
In Nevada, Senate Bill 354 passed and requires the Department of Education to develop a statewide framework for restorative justice. The new law also requires schools to address student discipline disproportionately, protect students experiencing homelessness from removal from school when their behavior is substantially cause by homelessness, increase positive behavioral interventions and trauma-informed supports, ensure unaccompanied youth can participate in their own disciplinary conferences, and ensure the involvement of McKinney-Vento liaisons in the discipline of students who are experiencing homelessness. The SchoolHouse connection team is excited to partner with Nevada advocates on the design and implementation efforts for this new law, and hopes it will become a national model.
Minor Consent to Medical Care
In North Dakota, Senate Bill 2265 allows unaccompanied homeless youth ages 14 and older to consent for their own medical, dental, and behavioral health care and to consent for their child(ren)’s medical, dental, and behavioral health care. The new law was signed into law on April 1, 2021.