Student Transportation Under the McKinney-Vento Act

Student Transportation Under the McKinney-Vento Act

October 5, 2023

Providing equal access to education for all students is a challenge, especially for students experiencing homelessness or frequent changes in their living situation. The McKinney-Vento Act is vital in helping homeless students obtain transportation so they can attend school and find solace in something consistent.


What is the McKinney-Vento Act?

In the early 1980s, Representative Stewart B. McKinney and Senator Robert Stafford addressed the needs of students experiencing homelessness and introduced the McKinney-Vento Act. Enacted in 1987, the Act mandates that every state educational agency “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.” The act further requires that each state and school district appoint a McKinney-Vento liaison who is responsible for making sure the purpose of the act is carried out appropriately.

Reauthorized in December of 2015 through the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), the primary purpose of the McKinney-Vento Act is to ensure and protect education rights for children and youth who are experiencing homelessness. It helps to remove barriers to education through the assurance of services like transportation, tutoring, special programs, and school nutrition, while also taking into account the student’s best interests.


Who qualifies for transportation under the McKinney-Vento Act?

Under the McKinney-Vento Act, transportation assistance is provided to homeless students who meet eligibility requirements. To qualify, a student must meet the legal definition of homelessness and face a situation that creates a barrier to regular attendance at their school of origin.

Homelessness as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act

The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” This definition includes (but is not limited to) children who are:

  • Sharing housing due to economic hardship or loss of housing
  • Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or campgrounds
  • Living in emergency or transitional shelters
  • Abandoned in hospitals
  • Sleeping in public or private places unfit for human habitation
  • Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, etc.
  • Migratory and are living in the circumstances described above

Additionally, it’s important to note that the McKinney-Vento Act also includes coverage for “unaccompanied youth” which is defined as a child or youth who is homeless and is not in the physical custody of a parent or legal guardian. Under the Act, these individuals are also afforded the same rights and services as their housed peers.

School of origin as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act

Students and families experiencing homelessness often find themselves on the move. This can have an impact on the consistency of their educational access and quality. The McKinney-Vento Act allows these families to keep their kids in the same school they were attending when they became homeless, if it’s in the child’s best interest. That school is known as their school of origin.

Specific to transportation, eligibility typically depends on whether it’s in a student’s best interest to continue attending their school of origin. If so, transportation services must be provided by the district to help ensure attendance.

While the McKinney-Vento Act prioritizes stability, it also considers that the school of origin may not serve the best interests of the student, in which case transportation services must be provided to the school that is appropriate for the student’s situation. This can include (but is not limited to) specialty schools like those for children with disabilities, schools with specific programs meant to fill the needs of the student, or a school closer to where the child is currently living.

Barriers to attendance

A key consideration for eligibility is that homelessness creates a barrier to the student’s regular attendance at school resulting in chronic absenteeism. School House Connection lists the following as barriers to regular attendance:

  • Lack of documentation/being unable to meet enrollment requirements
  • High mobility resulting in lack of continuity and absenteeism
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of supplies
  • Poor health, fatigue, and hunger
  • Emotional crisis/mental health issues

Transportation barriers can be due to the student’s lack of access to reliable transportation, varying drop-off and pick-up locations, or even the distance between their current residence and their school. By requiring the school district to provide transportation for the student, the McKinney-Vento Act addresses more than just the transportation barrier. When using the right transportation partner, districts are also able to address the high mobility rate that results in lack of continuity. By providing consistent transportation options for students, no matter what their living situation is, or where it is, districts are creating and providing a stable and reliable option for students who may not otherwise have one.


How to identify students who qualify for transportation under the McKinney-Vento Act?

To ensure that students experiencing homelessness have the education support they need, it’s crucial to establish a process for identifying and verifying these students. Here are a few steps you can take to identify eligible students:

Raise awareness

  • Provide information during school registration that lets families know what types of services are available and who qualifies. Make the information available in languages appropriate for your area, and give them a phone number or email address to send their questions to.
  • Promote the benefits of the McKinney-Vento Act to school staff, school clubs, local homeless shelters, community organizations and anyone else who will listen. Community members, parents, and even other students can be a huge help in identifying students experiencing homelessness.
  • Brainstorm channels where you can share resources like the school website, parent newsletter, homeless shelter bulletins, public libraries, local police departments, etc.
Build trust
  • Consider holding a district information meeting where parents can come and ask their questions or see a brief presentation on opportunities and services provided for students in homeless situations (as defined above).
  • Designate a point of contact who will create a judgment-free space for students and families to share their housing insecurities. Build trust and promote open communication by keeping their confidences
  • Show sensitivity and discretion when discussing a family’s situation around others and in front of their children.
  • Be transparent about options, timelines, and availability.

The McKinney-Vento Act stands as a vital piece of legislation that provides crucial support and protection for students experiencing homelessness in the United States. By naming the profound challenges opposing children without reliable housing, the Act ensures that they have access to education by removing transportation barriers, ultimately working to break the cycle of homelessness.

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