The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act went into effect on October 1, 2016, yet the fate of subsequent regulations on state plans and accountability under Title I Part A remains in question. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on February 7 to prevent these regulations from taking effect. A Senate resolution is expected soon.

Despite these on-going questions, we have answers to the two primary areas of McKinney-Vento implementation affected by the ESSA regulations. Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education provides clarity on these two regulatory issues: 1) the content and submission of state plans; and 2) the method of calculating high school graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness. Regardless of the fate of the ESSA regulations, we now can provide some clarity about state implementation of these provisions.

1) STATE PLANS. On February 10, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to all Chief State School Officers designating the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youths program as eligible for inclusion in a state’s consolidated plan under ESSA. The Department of Education has the authority to designate the McKinney-Vento program for inclusion in consolidated state plans without any additional regulatory action. See 20 U.S.C. §8302(a)(1)(B).

Based on this letter, states are not required to prepare a separate McKinney-Vento Plan. State educational agencies (SEAs) that have included the McKinney-Vento program within their consolidated state plans based on the ESSA regulations may continue to develop or finalize those consolidated plans. The ultimate fate of the regulations will have no effect on states’ ability to include the McKinney-Vento program in their consolidated plans.

The McKinney-Vento Act itself specifies what the state plan must include. See 42 U.S.C. §11432(g)(1). When drafting the McKinney-Vento program elements of the state plan, SEAs should keep in mind the following statement from Secretary DeVos’s letter: “I fully intend to implement and enforce the statutory requirements of the ESSA.” To ensure corresponding state-level implementation and enforcement, state plans should address the elements required by the statute, including:

  • Procedures to identify homeless children and youths;
  • Awareness-raising and professional development programs for liaisons, administrators and other school personnel to improve their identification of homeless children and youth and heighten their capacity to respond to their needs, including how the SEA and local educational agencies (LEAs) will ensure liaisons participate in these professional development programs;
  • Procedures to ensure access to public preschool programs;
  • How the SEA and LEAs will review and revise policies to remove barriers to the identification, enrollment and retention of homeless children and youths, including barriers due to outstanding fees, fines or absences;
  • Procedures to identify and remove barriers that prevent McKinney-Vento students from receiving partial credits;
  • Procedures to identify and eliminate barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities;
  • How unaccompanied homeless youth and homeless youth who have become separated from the public school will be identified and accorded access to appropriate secondary education and support services; and
  • Dispute resolution procedures.

The Department will accept consolidated state plans on April 3 or September 18, 2017. As state educational agencies develop their plans, they are providing opportunities for public comment. In many states, the public comment period already has closed; in others, opportunities to comment remain. A simple way to find out how to comment on your state’s plan is to search the web for “public comment [your state] ESSA state plan.” You also can contact your State Coordinator for Homeless Education to ask about your state plan and share your views on what should be included.

2) CALCULATING HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES. ESSA requires states to disaggregate and report on the achievement and high school graduation rate of students experiencing homelessness. The ESSA regulations required graduation rates to be disaggregated for students who experienced homelessness at any time during high school, rather than looking only at students who were homeless when they graduated. States should be prepared to report disaggregated graduation data in this way, regardless of the fate of the ESSA regulations.

Federal guidance outside of the ESSA regulations makes clear that SEAs and LEAs should include students who experienced homelessness at any time during high school when reporting their disaggregated high school graduation rates. The Office of Management and Budget approved this definition of the cohort as part of the Consolidated State Performance Report, in a Notice of Action that expires May 31, 2018. Most recently, this information was included in U.S. Department of Education Guidance from January, 2017: “For… children who are homeless… a State must count a student in his or her respective subgroup cohort(s) for the [adjusted cohort graduation rate] for each subgroup the student was a part of at any time during the cohort period.”

Questions about specific methods of collecting and reporting achievement and graduation data in your state should be directed to your State Coordinator for Homeless Education. Feel free to contact SchoolHouse Connection any time with questions about these policies or any other elements of the McKinney-Vento Act or supports for children, youth and families experiencing homelessness

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