U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13) today introduced new legislation designed to keep homeless kids in school and better meet the educational needs of a fast-growing growing population of homeless youth. The Educational Success for Children and Youth Without Homes (ESCYWH) Act is designed to update and build upon the successful McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) programs created under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
"School is often the only source of stability and security in the lives of children without a home," said Biggert, who authored the original EHCY provisions in 2001 and is Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness. "But homeless kids face unique challenges that can make it extremely difficult to enroll in school and make it to class each day. Being without a home should not mean being without an education. This bill will close the gap in our homeless education policies, and it will provide our schools with the resources and flexibility they need to give homeless kids a chance at a brighter future."
During the 2008-2009 school year, the Department of Education recorded over 950,000 homeless children in public schools, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. This year's estimates are expected to be even higher, as the economic downturn and widespread foreclosures continue to impact the housing of millions of American families. Cosponsored by Dale Kildee (D-MI-5th), Todd Platts (R-PA-19th), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11th), the bipartisan ESCYWH Act would help meet the growing needs of the homeless youth population by:
- Strengthening existing language that allows homeless kids to stay in their school of origin;
- Clarifying that EHCY funds may be used to cover transportation costs for homeless children;
- Providing school district homeless liaisons with professional development, training, and additional resources;
- Increasing access to preschool programs for young homeless children;
- Opening summer school, before- and after-school programs, and other educational opportunities to homeless youth;
- Ensuring Title I funds are available to support the academic achievement of homeless students;
- Increasing the program's authorization level to $300 million (compared to $70 million authorized in NCLB and $135 million appropriated in Fiscal Year 2010); and more.
"These improvements will ensure that homeless kids can stay in the school where they feel comfortable and provide them with basic supplies, transportation to class, and access to after-school activities and other programs," said Biggert, a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee and Co-Chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. "It also will lessen bureaucratic hurdles and funding restrictions that make it harder for schools to enroll these students and provide them with the services they need."
The bipartisan bill was developed in collaboration with several national advocacy organizations and has been endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, First Focus, the National Network for Youth, the Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the National Policy & Advocacy Council on Homelessness.
"We are thrilled to see the introduction of legislation that reflects the front-line experiences of educators, service providers, families, and youth," said Barbara Duffield, Policy Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. "The ESCYWH Act will help make sure that homeless children and youth receive the education they need to escape poverty and homelessness as adults. It is needed now more than ever."
Biggert says she will work to pass this bill by itself or as part of broader legislation revamping the nation's K through 12 education guidelines.