Q&A From the Field

McKinney-Vento (Pre-K)

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:In your case, since it sounds like your LEA is not the fiscal agent, the Head Start program would not be considered a pre-school, and McKinney-Vento transportation obligations would not apply.The McKinney-Vento Act applies to preschools – including Head Start programs – that are funded or administered in whole or in part by local educational agencies. This flowchart helps tease out whether an early childhood program is considered a “preschool” under McKinney-Vento. While LEAs are not legally obligated to provide transportation in the circumstance you described, there are other opportunities to work with your local Head Start or other early childhood development programs to help remove barriers for children experiencing homelessness to enroll and attend. For example, If your LEA has received any ARP-HCY funds they may be used to pay for transportation for the 3-year-old to attend the Head Start program. The U.S. Department of Education’s September Dear Colleague letter clarified that ARP-HCY funds may be used to “provide early childhood education to young children aged birth to five who are not formally enrolled in the LEA but who are experiencing homelessness in the LEA.

The McKinney-Vento Act applies to preschools – including Head Start programs – that are funded or administered in whole or in part by local educational agencies. This flowchart helps tease out whether an early childhood program is considered a “preschool” under McKinney-Vento. You are correct that your Head Start program would be a McKinney-Vento preschool, since your district is the fiscal agent.

This means that the transportation requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act also apply: comparable transportation; school of origin transportation (if a McKinney-Vento child moves after enrolled in the preschool, and subject to best interest, the child has the right to remain in the preschool and be transported by the district); and removing barriers caused by transportation.

No. The McKinney-Vento Act applies to preschool programs that are operated, administered or funded, in whole or in part, by local educational agencies. Details on this definition are available in our preschool flowchart. Head Start and Early Head Start programs for which school districts are not the fiscal agent must meet Head Start Program Performance Standards. Those rules use the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness and have multiple requirements around immediate enrollment and improved access to services for families experiencing homelessness.

Is the Head Start program administered by the school district? If so, the McKinney-Vento Act applies, and lack of immunization records cannot be a barrier to continued enrollment. (This flowchart provides more information about when Head Start programs are covered by the McKinney-Vento Act.)

The law specifies that if the child needs to obtain immunizations, the school must immediately refer the parent or guardian to the local educational agency liaison. The liaison must assist in obtaining necessary immunizations or screenings, or immunization or other required health records.

Even if the Head Start program is not administered by the school district, there is a required grace period of at least 90 days for obtaining immunizations and records, and the program should be helping the family obtain them. This brief provides more information about Head Start’s requirements for serving children experiencing homelessness.

Preschool transportation is a new issue that is causing a lot of confusion.  Preschools have been added to the school of origin definition by the Every Student Succeeds Act, so that transportation to a preschool of origin now is REQUIRED, as long as remaining in that preschool is in the child’s best interest.

Full Question: If you could, please kindly comment on each of the following assertions about McKinney-Vento preschool transportation that I have seen or read or heard somewhere:

MCKINNEY-VENTO PRESCHOOL TRANSPORTATION:

  • is for ONLY those that were previously enrolled prior to becoming homeless
  • applies ALSO to students enrolled in a school OTHER THAN the school of origin
  • applies only to SPECIAL EDUCATION students, not REGULAR EDUCATION students
  • Remains
    • Non-required
    • and unfunded

Full Answer:  Preschool transportation is a new issue that is causing a lot of confusion.  Preschools have been added to the school of origin definition by the Every Student Succeeds Act, so that transportation to a preschool of origin now is REQUIRED, as long as remaining in that preschool is in the child’s best interest.  This is true, even if the school district does not otherwise provide preschool transportation.  So if a preschooler becomes homeless, and is staying in that preschool of origin, transportation is required. If that preschooler then moves into permanent housing, the child can remain in the preschool of origin for the remainder of the academic year, and transportation is required.

For other preschools (that are not school of origin), comparable transportation is required. Title I, Part A funds can be used to pay for preschool transportation (both to preschool of origin and other preschools; both regular Title IA funds and Title IA homeless set-aside funds).

And we just happen to have a document that should help: this flow chart provides a guide to understanding pre-school and the McKinney-Vento Act.

The short answer is yes, the McKinney-Vento Act requirements for immediate enrollment do apply to preschool programs that are administered by the SEA or LEAs. The guidance from the U.S. Department of Education states the following:

“N-4. Do McKinney-Vento Act requirements apply to homeless children attending preschool? To the extent that an LEA offers a public education to preschool children, including LEA-administered Head Start programs, an LEA must meet the McKinney-Vento Act requirements for homeless children in preschool, including ensuring that a homeless child remains in his or her public preschool of origin, unless a determination is made that it is not in the child’s best interest. (See sections 721(1), 722(g)(1)(F)(i), 722(g)(3)(I)).”

This means that if there is an opening in the preschool program, a child experiencing homelessness must be enrolled immediately, even if they do not have proof of immunizations or other documents typically required for enrollment. The McKinney-Vento Act is federal law, and therefore supersedes conflicting state law and regulations.

In addition, under the new federal child care law and regulations, states are required to establish a grace period for children experiencing homelessness to comply with immunization and other health and safety requirements. Homeless children must be allowed to receive child care services during the grace period, while families work to meet health and safety requirements. In addition, federally-funded child care agencies are required to help families comply with immunization and other requirements during the grace period, and providers can receive payment during the grace period. Here is a link to a summary of those rules: https://schoolhouseconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CCDFSummary.pdf

We recommend talking to your State McKinney-Vento Coordinator and CCDF state administrator to learn more about how the state is complying with those new rules. The CCDF regulations also require training and outreach on homelessness, so it could be a good opportunity to cross-train on McKinney-Vento, preschool, and child care more generally.

The best solution would be for your State Pre-K program to provide automatic eligibility for children experiencing homelessness. That way, they would not have to prove income. State Pre-K could accept referrals from liaisons, family shelters and other sources, and also use the enrollment forms that public schools use to identify students experiencing homelessness. That kind of referral and enrollment process also could help programs prioritize homeless children for enrollment and collect data on the need to reserve slots specifically for children experiencing homelessness.

If homeless families can’t access Pre-K because they lack documents to prove income, that would be a barrier to preschool enrollment that would violate the McKinney-Vento Act. Providing automatic eligibility would eliminate the paperwork burden on families and on State Pre-K. For more information on the McKinney-Vento Act and preschool, see our PreK-12 resource page.

Absolutely. Preschools are included within the definition of school of origin (we have a flowchart to walk you through those requirements), and providing access to early childhood programs is part of the liaison’s responsibilities. Given those requirements, public preschools should be posting McKinney-Vento rights information.

There is no clear, specific requirement to provide transportation to the preschools with openings that are outside the attendance area, since only “comparable” transportation is required (and comparable in this case means no transportation). However, you could certainly make the case under the law that lack of transportation is a barrier to the enrollment of the children in preschool, and that the district is obligated to remove the barrier. Also, as you know, Title IA funds can be used to pay for preschool transportation (both to preschool of origin and other preschools).

Also, looking to the future, it would be important to explore ways to create ongoing capacity at preschools (especially close to shelters) by reserving some slots for homeless children, moving them to the top of the waitlist, or other methods to ensure that there are procedures to remove barriers to enrollment. The McKinney-Vento Act now requires immediate enrollment even if the child or youth “has missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness.” Reserving slots or going to the top of the waitlist can help school districts comply with this requirement when programs are full.

Children can remain in their preschool of origin even if they move out of the town or school district. The determination whether the child remains in the preschool of origin is based on the child’s best interest. The U.S. Department of Education has noted that: “An early childhood program may be the one stable and structured environment that young children who are homeless can depend on, and as such, school and program stability is of the utmost importance for this vulnerable population.” The guidance suggests that best interest determinations for preschool children should consider the child’s attachment to preschool teachers and staff, the availability and quality of services to meet the child’s comprehensive needs (including health, developmental, and social-emotional needs), and travel time to and from the school.  USED Guidance, March 2017, N-3.

More information on preschools of origin is available here.

Children experiencing homelessness should be prioritized for pre-K programs. If the program is full, the McKinney-Vento Act does not require the program to go over capacity to serve homeless children. However, the U.S. Department of Education places strong emphasis on enrolling children experiencing homelessness in preschool:

“Even in districts without universal preschool, local liaisons should make every effort to enroll preschool-age homeless children in preschool if they are not already enrolled. The local liaison should remind preschool program staff of how important preschool services are for homeless children and how waiting lists often create barriers for homeless families who wish to enroll their children. Some preschool programs keep slots open specifically for homeless children. Homeless children are also automatically eligible to attend preschool programs funded under Title I.” USED Guidance, March 2017, N-2.

From the information that you provided, it sounds like this program would meet the criteria for a preschool under the McKinney-Vento Act, because it is run by the LEA. However, the district is not required to pay McKinney-Vento children’s tuition, because that would not be “comparable” to what is provided to other children. Certainly, waiving the tuition or using Title I or other funds to pay the tuition is strongly recommended to remove barriers to enrollment, but it is not required under the Act.

For this kind of program, the McKinney-Vento protections come into play with respect to school of origin. Thus, if a child who is enrolled in this preschool program becomes homeless, the program would become a school of origin, and, if it were in the best interest of the child to continue to attend, transportation would be required (even if not provided to other children).