Charter Schools and Students Experiencing Homelessness:
Practices and Recommendations for Success


There are approximately 1.5 million K-12 students and an additional 1.4 million children under the age of six experiencing homelessness across the United States. While many of these students attend traditional public schools, a growing number, at least 60,000, are enrolled in charter schools. Charter schools are independently-operated public schools that have additional flexibility to design classrooms that meet their students’ academic and other needs. All charter schools operate under a contract with a charter school authorizer – usually a nonprofit organization, government agency, or university – that holds them accountable to the high standards outlined in their “charter.” 

The purpose of this report is to begin to paint a clearer picture of the experiences and outcomes of students experiencing homelessness enrolled in charter schools. In this document, we offer basic information about the McKinney-Vento Act, case studies highlighting best practices across charter schools and networks, and key questions for charter school educators, administrators, authorizers, support staff, advocates, and others. We hope charter schools and partners will use this document as a starting point for conversations and action within your schools, networks, communities, and states.

Table of Contents:

I: Introduction 
II: The McKinney-Vento Act: The Federal Blueprint for Educational Equity for Students Experiencing Homelessness
III: The Impact of COVID-19
IV: Case Studies: Charter Schools Serving Students Experiencing Homelessness

  • Identification and Enrollment
  • Trauma-informed Practice
  • Support for Students and Families, Both In and Out of School
  • Disaggregated Data

V: Takeaways and Recommendations

Key Takeaways and Recommendations

The recommendations below are intended for charter school operators, administrators, staff, and others to implement the McKinney-Vento Act fully and to improve the educational opportunities and experiences of students experiencing homelessness.

Identification, Immediate Enrollment, and Retention:

  • Include clear, non-stigmatizing questions about housing and homelessness on enrollment forms, along with clear definitions of what “homelessness” is under the McKinney-Vento Act.
  • Issue mid-year surveys and conduct ongoing outreach to check-in with families about their housing status, to capture new students who may have lost their housing mid-year.
  • Offer support for older, unaccompanied homeless youth to self-enroll and ensure immediate enrollment without proof of residency, school records, or a parent or guardian, as required by federal law. 
  • Eliminate barriers to enrollment for students who qualify for McKinney-Vento services, such as offering priority enrollment and elevating them to the top of waitlists (to the maximum extent allowed under state laws and authorizing charters). 
  • Review school and/or network policies that might act as barriers to student attendance, persistence, and completion. This might include attendance policies that do not allow for flexibility and understanding of individual circumstances that students experiencing homelessness might face.

Trauma-Informed Practice

  • Provide training for teachers and staff on the signs of homelessness, including the ways in which homelessness often leads students and families to experience trauma in different ways.
  • Adopt positive and restorative behavioral and discipline practices, schoolwide.
  • Consider recruiting teachers, administrators, social workers and/or counselors of color and those with lived experience of homelessness.

Supporting Students and Families, In School and Out of School

  • Provide transportation to school and extra-curricular services, including to the school of origin, as required by federal law, so students and families can have the stability and consistency of school connections even after they move.
  • Build partnerships with community-based organizations that can assist families and youth with medical care, housing, job training, child care, and other services.
  • Create mechanisms to elevate parent and student voice, such as surveys, focus groups and parent and student councils 

Analysis of Disaggregated Data

  • Disaggregate existing data for students experiencing homelessness, including data about enrollment, attendance, achievement, graduation, and discipline.
  • Collect and analyze data on students experiencing homelessness, including participation in advanced courses, participation in extracurricular activities, access to basic services like transportation, etc.
  • Create school-level data teams to analyze all student data and develop intervention and service strategies based on the data. If such teams already exist, ensure they prioritize students experiencing homelessness. 

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