Washington, DC - The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) today called on Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to enforce federal laws that ensure displaced children access to school and called on Congress for emergency appropriations to help state accommodate the 372,000 children and youth made homeless by Katrina.
According to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Secretary Spellings promised she will not enforce provisions of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that guarantees school access and stability to homeless children. Utah is one of few states seeking to circumvent McKinney-Vento Act provisions.
"It is now more important than ever that this federal guarantee be enforced," said NLCHP Executive Director Maria Foscarinis. "It's especially disturbing since schools across the country have been complying with indeed relying on - the law to aid children displaced by Katrina."
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act gives funding to states to enroll homeless children and provide transportation and other needed assistance. McKinney-Vento also requires states to remove barriers, such as residency and school record requirements that can prevent displaced children from attending public schools.
McKinney-Vento was first enacted in 1987 in response to data showing that more than half of all homeless children were not attending school on a regular basis. Implementation of the law has resulted in dramatic increases in school attendance by homeless children.
McKinney-Vento also prevents school districts from treating homeless children differently and segregating them in separate schools.
"Separate -and most often unequal - has no place in our society," says Foscarinis.
She applauded Congress for recognizing that separate schools for homeless children can have a stigmatizing effect and inhibit educational attainment.
"School can provide a sense of normalcy, stability and safety," said Joy Moses, NLCHP's Education Attorney.
In addition to providing stability, keeping homeless children in the same school throughout the year provides educational continuity, increasing the chance that the children's academic performance will not suffer.
"We ask Secretary Spellings to work to ensure that states and local school districts properly implement McKinney-Vento protections that provide stability for displaced children," said Foscarinis.
NLCHP has also called on Congress to pass emergency appropriations to provide additional funding to help states accommodate children and youth made homeless by Katrina.