Homeless Assistance

Mrs. Staci Norris
McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Liaison

724-658-4793, ext. 5106

Helpful Links and Information:

Education for Homeless Youth

42 U.S.C.A. § 11431 et seq.
DATE OF ISSUE: February 3, 2010
DATE OF REVIEW: August 19, 2015

September 1, 2011


In 1987, Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, (subsequently renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act) to aid homeless persons. The Act defines the term “homeless children and youths” as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The Act explicitly includes within the definition of “homeless children and youths” those who are “awaiting foster care placement.”


This Basic Education Circular (BEC) explains the categories of children who are “homeless” and entitled to the protections of the federal law.

These categories include:

  • children and youths who are sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason; are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
  • children and youths who have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
  • children and youths who are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
  • “migratory children” who qualify as homeless under federal law because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through (iii) above. The term “migratory children” means children who are (or whose parent(s) or spouse(s) are) migratory agricultural workers, including migratory dairy workers or migratory fishermen, and who have moved from one school district to another in the preceding 36 months, in order to obtain (or accompany such parents or spouses in order to obtain) temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work.
  • children and youths “awaiting foster care placement,” which means children who are placed in shelters, emergency foster care, transitional foster care or respite care. These placement settings are intended to be short term, and do not typically last longer than 30 days. However, individual circumstances may, at times, require a longer length of stay. If the placement exceeds 30 days, contact should be made with the child welfare worker and the local McKinney-Vento Coordinator to determine if there is any valid reason to conclude that the child is still “awaiting foster care placement.” Communication and collaboration among education and child welfare professionals is critical to support school stability and continuity for children in out-of-home care. The law requires child welfare and local education agencies to work together to promote school stability and continuity including trying to ensure children remain in the school in which they were enrolled at the time of placement when it is in their best interest. Best practice would suggest that decisions be made collaboratively between school personnel, child welfare agencies and any other individual involved in the child’s case including the child, resource parent, child advocate and attorney. It is imperative that caseworkers and school district administration and staff work together to help ensure the educational progress of all students. Local school officials should consult with their Pennsylvania Homeless Children’s Initiative Regional, Site, and State Coordinators, whenever necessary to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a child is “awaiting foster care placement.”
  • “Unaccompanied homeless youth” including any child who is “not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.” This includes youth who have run away from home, been thrown out of their home, been abandoned by parents or guardians, or separated from their parents for any other reason.

Under the Pennsylvania Education for Homeless Children and Youth State Plan, homeless children are defined as “Children living with a parent in a domestic violence shelter; runaway children and children, and youth who have been abandoned or forced out of their home by parents or other caretakers; and school-aged parents living in houses for school-aged parents if they have no other available living accommodations.”

The McKinney-Vento Act states that it is the policy of Congress that state educational agencies shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths 42 U.S.C.A. § 11431. Specifically, 42 U.S.C.A. § 11432(g) (3) (A) indicates that the local educational agency (LEA) shall, according to the child’s best interest:

  • continue the child’s or youth’s education in the school of origin for the duration of homelessness in any case in which a family becomes homeless between academic years or during an academic year; or
  • for the remainder of the academic year, if the child or youth becomes permanently housed during an academic year; or
  • enroll the child or youth in any public school that non-homeless students who live in the attendance area in which the child or youth is actually living are eligible to attend.
    According to the McKinney-Vento Act the term “school of origin” means the school the child or youth attended when permanently housed, or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled. 42 U.S.C.A. § 11432(g) (3) (G).

I. Homeless Students Residing in Shelters, Facilities or Institutions

Section 1306 of the Pennsylvania Public School Code (24 P.S. §13-1306) deals with the public school admission of nonresident students living in shelters, facilities or institutions. Implementing regulations for Section 1306 are found in Section 11.18 of the State Board of Education regulations. 22 Pa. Code § 11.18 Subsection (a) of Section 11.18 addresses the public school admission of nonresident children who live in an institution, shelter or custodial care facility:

  • The board of school directors of a school district in which there is located an agency, supervised or licensed shelter, group home, maternity home, residence, facility, orphanage or other institution for care or training of children or adolescents, shall admit to the district’s public schools school-aged children who are living at or assigned to the facility or institution and who are residents of the district or another district in this Commonwealth.
  • 22 Pa. Code § 11.18
    Section 11.18, as it applies to homeless children and youth, includes within the definition of “supervised or licensed shelters” those facilities which provide temporary shelter for a specified, limited period of time. Therefore, children in temporary shelters and children who “lack a fixed, regular, adequate night time residence” – homeless children – are entitled to free school privileges from either the school district in which their person or the shelter is located or the school district of origin.

II. Homeless Students Not Residing in a Shelter, Facility or Institution

Homeless students may reside in hotels, motels, cars, tents or temporarily doubled-up with a resident family because of lack of housing. In determining residence and in the case of homeless children, equating “residence” and “domicile” (home) does not apply. They are presently unable to establish “homes” on a permanent basis. Homeless families are not required to prove residency regarding school enrollment. These students should be enrolled without delay, in the district where they are presently residing or continue their education in the district of prior attendance.
Children experiencing homelessness are often highly mobile and may not stay in the same school district each night or each week. This is particularly true regarding children who stay overnight in vehicles, those who stay with different family members or friends, or those who receive services from agencies, organizations or networks which facilitate overnight accommodations in multiple school districts. These children should not be forced to change school districts every time their overnight accommodations change. Rather, these children are entitled to attend school in any school district where a parent, guardian, an adult caring for them or where an unaccompanied child:

  • spends the greatest percentage of his or her time; or
  • has a substantial connection such as where he or she is
    • regularly receiving day shelter or other services involving any of the 16 McKinney-Vento Activities (42 U.S.C.A. 11433(d)) for individuals who are homeless;
    • conducting daily living activities; or
    • staying overnight on a recurring basis.

This policy helps maintain continuity and school stability for homeless children in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act.  The child or youth shall continue to be enrolled in the school in which he or she is seeking enrollment until the complaint or appeal is fully resolved by a McKinney-Vento Coordinator, state coordinator, through mediation or in court.

III. School Placement

The McKinney-Vento Act states, “local educational agencies will designate an appropriate staff person, who may also be a coordinator for other federal programs, as a local educational agency liaison for homeless children and youth.”

This person has the following responsibilities:

  1. Identify homeless children and youths with assistance by school personnel and through coordination activities with other entities and agencies;
  2. Inform parents or guardians of educational rights and related opportunities available to their children and provide them with meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children;
  3. Disseminate public notice of the educational rights of homeless students where children and youths receive services under the McKinney-Vento Act (such as schools, family shelters and food pantries);
  4. Mediate enrollment disputes in accordance with the Enrollment Dispute section;
  5. Inform the parent or guardian of a homeless child, youth and any unaccompanied youth, of all transportation options, including to the school of origin, and assist in accessing these transportation services;
  6. Liaisons are required to ensure that unaccompanied youth are immediately enrolled in school pending resolution of disputes that might arise over school enrollment or placement;
  7. Liaisons are required to assist children and youths who do not have documentation of immunizations or medical records to obtain necessary immunizations or necessary medical documentation;
  8. Understand the guidance issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) for the education of homeless students and be ready to explain the BEC related to homeless education to school district staff;
  9. Get to know the best resources in your community to assist families with referrals for things such as shelter, counseling, food and transportation;
  10. Distribute information on the subject of homeless students and arrange staff development workshops and presentations for school personnel, including office staff;
  11. Provide standard forms and information about enrollment procedures and key school programs to each shelter in your district;
  12. Become familiar with the various program materials that are available from PDE;
  13. Liaisons must collaborate with a school district’s special education program to ensure that homeless children who are in need of special education and related services are located, identified and evaluated. This is a requirement under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, which mandates that highly mobile children with disabilities, including homeless children, be identified and served. Liaisons should also ensure that homeless youths who have or may have disabilities have a parent or a surrogate parent to make special education or early intervention decisions. In the case of unaccompanied homeless
    youth, if a student is disabled or may be disabled and the youth does not have a person authorized to make special education decisions, the following people can be temporary surrogate parents: staff in emergency shelters; transitional shelters; independent living programs; street outreach programs; and state, local educational agency or child welfare agency staff involved in the education or care of the child. This rule applies only to unaccompanied homeless youth;
  14. Liaisons should also identify preschool-aged homeless children by working closely with shelters and social service agencies in their area. In addition, the liaison should inquire, at the time they are enrolling homeless children and youths in school, whether the family has preschool-aged children;
  15. Liaisons can identify unaccompanied homeless youth while respecting their privacy and dignity by providing specific outreach to areas where eligible students who are out of school may congregate.
    Appropriate school placement arrangements, based on the child’s best interest, should be implemented through the cooperative efforts of the respective chief school administrators. Each case presents a unique set of circumstances and, therefore, requires an individualized response. In all cases, the LEA shall comply, to the extent feasible, with the request made by a parent or guardian regarding school selection, shall attempt to minimize disruptions and shall maintain the highest possible degree of continuity in programs for all homeless students. The choice regarding placement shall be made regardless of whether the child or youth lives with the homeless parents or has been temporarily placed elsewhere.
    Homelessness alone is not a reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment. Homeless children and youths should have access to education and other services that they need to ensure that they have an opportunity to meet the same challenging state student performance standards to which all students are held.

In determining the best interest of the child or youth under McKinney-Vento Act, the LEA shall:

  • to the extent feasible, keep a homeless child or youth in the school of origin, except when doing so is contrary to the wishes of the child’s or youth’s parent or guardian;
  • provide a written explanation, including a statement regarding the right to appeal, to the homeless child’s or youth’s parent or guardian, if the LEA sends such child or youth to a school other than the school of origin or a school requested by the parent or guardian; and
  • in the case of an unaccompanied youth, ensure that the homeless liaison assists in placement or enrollment decisions under this subparagraph, considers the views of such unaccompanied youth and provides notice to such youth of the right to appeal.
    The selected school shall immediately enroll the child or youth in school, even if the child or youth lacks records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, medical records, proof of residency or other documentation.
    The terms “enroll” and “enrollment” are defined as attending classes and participating fully in school activities. The enrolling school must immediately contact the last school attended to obtain relevant records.
    In order to ensure immediate enrollment, the LEA is encouraged to: train school enrollment staff about the legal requirement that homeless children and youths be immediately enrolled and provided transportation; review school regulations and policies to ensure that they comply with the McKinney-Vento Act requirements; inform families and youth, in a language they can understand, of their rights; develop clear, understandable and accessible written explanations of decisions and the right to appeal; and expeditiously follow up on any special education or language assistance needs presented by a student.

IV. School/Health Records

The educating district should immediately enroll and begin to provide instruction. The receiving school district may contact the district of origin for oral confirmation that the child has been immunized. Oral confirmation between professionals is a sufficient basis to verify immunization with written confirmation to follow within 30 days. The instructional program should begin as soon as possible after the enrollment process is initiated and should not be delayed until the procedure is completed.  According to federal law, “(iii) If the child or youth needs to obtain immunizations, or immunization or medical records, the enrolling school shall immediately refer the parent or guardian of the child or youth to the local educational agency liaison designated under paragraph (1)(J)(ii), shall assist in obtaining necessary immunizations, or immunization or medical records, in accordance with subparagraph (D)” 42 U.S. §11432(g)(c)(iii).

V. Title I

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act I (reauthorized January 2002) mandates that funds be reserved to serve homeless children. Title I states, “A local educational agency shall reserve such funds as are necessary to provide services comparable to those provided to children in schools funded under this part to serve homeless children who do not attend participating schools, including providing educationally related support services to children in shelters and other locations where children may live.” Title I also indicates that homeless children are eligible for services if they are attending schools served by an LEA.

VI. Transportation

The state and its LEAs are required to adopt policies and practices to ensure that transportation is provided, at the request of the parent or guardian (or in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the liaison), to and from the school of origin. If the homeless student continues to live in the area served by the LEA, that LEA must provide or arrange transportation. If the homeless student moves to an area served by another LEA, though continuing his or her education at the school of origin, the LEA of origin and the LEA in which the student is living must agree upon a method to apportion responsibility and costs for transportation to the school of origin. If the LEAs cannot agree upon such a method, the responsibility and costs must be shared equally. Distance, time of year, options available, the effects of a transfer, etc., should all be addressed.
The provision of transportation to the school of origin is based on a students’ status as homeless. The provision to remain in the school of origin during the remainder of the academic year is offered to provide for school stability. However, the transportation mandate is for homeless students only. Once a student becomes permanently housed and chooses to remain in their school of origin, it is at the district’s discretion to continue to
provide or arrange transportation, as appropriate. The district is under no statutory obligation.

VII. Fiscal Responsibilities

Fiscal responsibilities apply to all homeless students, whether in regular or special education classes.
The educating district should apply the following criteria when determining fiscal responsibility:

A. The procedures outlined below will be followed in cases when the education of the child is provided by the district where the homeless student is temporarily living (doubled up, motel, shelter). The procedures shall also apply in cases when the district of prior attendance, where that is not the district the child attended when permanently housed, will educate the child.

  1. Homeless individuals not in facilities (shelters) or institutions, as well as homeless individuals living in hotels, motels, cars, tents, doubled-up with a resident family, shall be reported and reimbursed as resident students;
  2. For homeless individuals in temporary shelters, the educating school district will send a PDE-4605 Determination of District of Residence for Student in Facilities or Institutions in Accordance with Section 1306 of the Pennsylvania Public School Code to the presumed district of residence;
  3. If PDE-4605 is acknowledged by the resident district, the educating district will enter the child on its rolls as a nonresident student from the acknowledging resident school district. The educating district will bill the resident district for tuition and will report membership data according to PDE child accounting procedures; and
  4. If PDE-4605 is disclaimed and a school district of residence cannot be determined, the educating school district should submit a written request to PDE’s School Services Office to make a determination regarding the student’s “ward of the state” status.

B. In cases when the education of the child is provided by the district of origin, where that is the district the child attended when permanently housed, that district will continue to educate a homeless student for the period of temporary displacement and should maintain the homeless student on its roll as a resident student.

C. In cases when the student becomes permanently housed during the academic year and continues in the school of origin, which is not in the district of new residence, the educating district will continue to educate the formerly homeless student, if requested by the student’s parent or guardian, until the end of the academic year and should maintain the homeless student on its roll as a non-resident student. The educating district should advise the new district of residence of its financial responsibility for this student and send a tuition bill.

VIII. Categorical Eligibility for Migrant, Homeless, and Runaway Children under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs

Effective July 1, 2004, Section 107 of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 amended Section 9(b) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to make runaway, homeless and migrant children categorically eligible for free meal benefits under
the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The following are guidelines set out by PDE for implementation of this amendment.
Documentation and Procedures

  1. Homeless, runaway or migratory children are automatically certified as eligible for free meal benefits and can begin receiving free meal benefits upon proper documentation for meals. Please note that documentation as runaway, homeless, or migratory can only be provided by a school district migrant education or homeless education staff.
  2. School district migrant education or homeless education staff are responsible for providing proper documentation of a child’s status to the Food Service Directors in each school district.

IX. Dispute Resolution Process

Pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Act, every state must develop procedures for the prompt resolution of disputes regarding the educational placement of homeless children and youths. 42 U.S. §11432(g)(1)(C). The state must ensure that LEAs comply with requirements set forth in the McKinney-Vento Act including ensuring immediate enrollment, providing written notice to families concerning school selection, enrollment decisions and providing enrollment and pendency in the school of choice while a dispute is being resolved. 42 U.S. §11432(g)(2)(A).

PDE has developed the following procedures to govern the resolution of disputes regarding enrollment, school selection, homeless status and complaints of non-compliance with legal requirements pertaining to the education for homeless children and youths:

  • Level 1 – A dispute may be raised with a LEA
    If a dispute arises over school selection or enrollment, the child or youth involved must immediately be admitted to the school in which they are seeking enrollment, pending resolution of the dispute 42 U.S. §11432(g)(3)(E)(i). PDE recommends that the parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth who initiates the dispute contact the LEA liaison for individuals experiencing homelessness as soon as possible after receiving notice of the dispute. If the person initiating the dispute does not contact the LEA liaison directly, the LEA shall be responsible for contacting the LEA liaison regarding the dispute as soon as possible and referring the family or youth involved to the liaison.
    The LEA liaison shall ensure that the child or youth is immediately enrolled, explain the dispute resolution process to families and help them to use it 42 U.S.C.A. §11432(g)(3)(E)(iii). The LEA shall issue a written disposition of the dispute within 20 business days after the LEA liaison is notified of the dispute. The disposition shall be provided to the parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth and shall explain the basis for the decision and advise the parent, guardian or youth of the right to appeal. 42 U.S.§11432(g)(3)(E)(i).
    NOTE: The LEA should use and maintain copies of PDE’s “Notice of Procedural Safeguards” form (see attached) which ensures that all LEAs (a) inform families of the basis of their decision regarding enrollment or school selection; (b) notifies families of their right to remain in their school of choice pending resolution of the dispute and (c) explains the procedures for challenging the decision of the LEA.
  • Level 2 – A complaint may be filed with a McKinney-Vento Coordinator
    If the parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth is dissatisfied with the LEA’s disposition of a dispute or would like to raise any issue of McKinney-Vento Act noncompliance, they may file a complaint or appeal with a McKinney-Vento site or regional coordinator or with the state coordinator. (See attached list which contains contact information for all of the McKinney-Vento coordinators in Pennsylvania). In lieu of filing an appeal with a McKinney-Vento coordinator, a parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth may elect to appeal the LEA decision directly to a court of competent jurisdiction. Participation in the appeal procedure is not required prior to taking legal action.
    A regional or site coordinator with whom a complaint or appeal is filed must notify the state coordinator immediately. Upon being notified, the state coordinator will review the complaint or appeal and assign it to a site or regional coordinator for disposition. The coordinator to whom the appeal is assigned may contact, interview and accept documentation from any individual or LEA involved, and shall issue a written disposition within 20 business days after the complaint or appeal has been assigned. The disposition shall be provided to the LEA and the parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth involved. The child or youth shall continue to be enrolled in the school in which he or she is seeking enrollment until the complaint or appeal is resolved or until a disposition from a McKinney-Vento coordinator is received.
    The state coordinator may assist in the mediation of disputes directly and may also invite those involved to have the dispute mediated at any time in the process through the Dispute Resolution Program operated by the Commonwealth Office of General Counsel (OGC). The OGC Dispute Resolution Program is a voluntary informal process through which a trained mediator assists in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution. (For more information about OGC’s Dispute Resolution Program) Participating in mediation is not a waiver of the right to file a lawsuit nor is participation in mediation required prior to taking legal action.
    NOTE: The parent, guardian or unaccompanied youth may file a complaint with the McKinney-Vento site, regional or state coordinator on the attached complaint form. However, the use of the attached form is not mandatory. Any dispute raised by a homeless family or youth concerning school enrollment or any other right under the McKinney-Vento Act whether received via telephone, letter or any mode of communication shall be treated as a complaint.

Purdon’s Statutes
24 P.S. § 13-1301
24 P.S. § 13-1302
24 P.S. § 13-1306
22 Pa. Code § 11.18
Federal Statutes
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

Pennsylvania Education for Homeless Children and Youth State Plan
U.S. Dept. of Education Guidelines – Homeless Children and Youth Programs
– Procedural Safeguards Notice of Denial of Enrollment
– Enrollment Complaint to PA Department of Education
– Pennsylvania McKinney-Vento Coordinators (State, Regional & Site)

Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program
Bureau of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street, 5th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717-783-6466

Child Accounting questions should be referred to:
Bureau of Budget and Fiscal Management
Division of Subsidy Data and Administration
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717-787-5423

Transportation questions should be referred to:
Bureau of Budget and Fiscal Management
Division of Subsidy Data and Administration
Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717-787-3195

For additional information, please contact:
Sheldon Winnick | Pennsylvania Department of Education
Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program
333 Market Street, 5th Floor | Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 717.783.6466
swinnick@pa.gov | http://www.education.pa.gov