On December 10, 2016, the phrase “awaiting foster care placement” was deleted from the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Act. Please see DPI's Foster Care page for more information on out-of-home care.
Families and unaccompanied children and youth who are homeless may dispute decisions made by the district regarding eligibility, school selection, or enrollment. The homeless liaison is required to assist parents and unaccompanied children and youth through the local district’s dispute resolution process. If a dispute is not resolved after going through the district dispute resolution process, the parent or unaccompanied youth may send a request for resolution to the Superintendent’s Office of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Disputes involving homeless issues follow the Chapter PI 1 complaint resolution process.
Unresolved complaints should be sent to:
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
P.O. Box 7841
Madison, WI 53707-7841
Confirming Eligibility for McKinney-Vento Services: Do’s and Don’ts for Local Liaisons
National Center for Homeless Education. Strategies for homeless liaisons to effectively identify and enroll children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Identifying Children and Youth in Homeless Situations
National Center for Homeless Education.
Children Recently Arrived to the U.S.
USDE Fact Sheet: Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Children Recently Arrived to the United States
Who is considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act?
The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children and youths as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The term "homeless children and youths" includes children and youths who are:
sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason;
living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations;
living in emergency or transitional shelters
abandoned in hospitals;
living in a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designated for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings;
living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and/or
migratory children living in any of the circumstances described above.
Are transitional housing programs considered a homeless situation?
Yes. The McKinney-Vento Act specifically applies to children and youth living in transitional shelters. This term includes transitional housing programs and transitional living programs.
Are children and youth who move in with relatives, friends, or other people covered by the Act?
Children and youth who are sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason are covered by the McKinney-Vento Act. This can include unaccompanied youth who are running away from home, even if their parents state a desire for the youth to return home. Families who share adequate housing on a long-term basis due to preference or convenience would not be covered by the Act.
Can children or youth be considered homeless if their parents have sent them to live with friends or relatives because the parents are too poor to provide a stable home? Is the answer the same if the parents do not live in the United States?
Yes and yes. Whether a child meets the definition of homelessness rests upon the child’s living situation. A child who has been sent to live with relatives because his or her parents cannot afford to provide safe, stable housing is eligible for the McKinney-Vento Act’s protections. The child is sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason. Whether the parents live in the U.S. or elsewhere is not a factor under the law. Further, the McKinney-Vento Act specifies that the right to choose between the school of origin and local school remains in effect, “regardless of whether the child or youth lives with the homeless parents or has been temporarily placed elsewhere.”
If parents send their children to live with friends or relatives because they want their children to go to another school, do we treat the children as homeless?
No. The McKinney-Vento Act provides rights and services for children and youth experiencing homelessness. If children are sharing housing only to attend a different school, they are not covered under the Act.
Are students displaced by a disaster covered by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act?
Yes. Students who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence due to disaster (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, chemical explosion, terrorist attack, etc.) are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. McKinney-Vento does not consider the income of a family - only the living situation. Displaced students are entitled to the same legal protections and services as other students experiencing homelessness. A family with financial means may not need the same services as families with limited financial means, but they have the right to remain in the school of origin. Other services would be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the needs of each student.
When adults with children leave their homes due to domestic violence, are the children considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Yes. If an adult and accompanying children are living with others or in a domestic abuse shelter as a result of domestic violence, the children are considered homeless.
Schools Working with Domestic Violence Agencies and Homeless Children
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2004.This is a joint guidance document with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
Post Secondary Education, Financial Aid and Scholarships
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Policies
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Income Tax and the FAFSA for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. This document answers questions about the relationship between the filing of tax returns and a youth’s completion of FAFSA.
Dependency Status Definition Changes
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, 2009. This webpage lists the expanded criteria under which an undergraduate student is considered independent for the purposes of receiving federal financial aid for higher education.
Helping Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Access College Financial Aid
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. This includes information on helping unaccompanied youth access financial aid for college.
Links to Scholarships Information for Higher Education
National Center for Homeless Education
Fastweb Scholarship Information
Fastweb provides a free scholarship search website to search for likely scholarship matches.
NAEHCY Scholarship Program
The NAEHCY Scholarship Program was established in 1998. Each year, we award scholarships to students who have experienced homelessness and who have demonstrated academic achievement.
Wisconsin Educational Opportunity Program Information
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Wisconsin Title I Scholarship Awards
The Wisconsin Title I Association awards up to three $1,500 scholarships to Wisconsin high school seniors who have participated in a Title I program sometime during their Early Childhood through Grade 12 school career.
ACT Fee Waiver information
This webpage from The ACT, provides information on eligibility for ACT fee waivers.
SAT Program Fee Waiver Service
This webpage from the College Board explains how a high school junior or senior can receive a fee waiver in order to take the SAT college entrance exam or SAT subject tests.
Preschool Children and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008.
Best Practices for Identification and Enrollment of Homeless Preschool Children
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2011.
How Preschool Teachers Can Help Children Who Are Homeless
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2011.
Tips For Supporting Young Children Who Are Homeless
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2011.
What programs are available for children prior to kindergarten?
Preschool programs for children too young to attend 5-year-old kindergarten vary among school districts. All school districts offer early childhood special education programs for children with special needs. In addition, districts may offer Title I preschool programs, Head Start, 4-year-old kindergarten, migrant education programs, or child care. To learn what pre-kindergarten programs are available, contact the local school district or area Child Care Resource and Referral Agency.
Must school districts assist parents who are homeless to find early education programs for their preschool children?
The district homeless liaison is required to discuss with parents the feasibility of enrolling their children in an early education program. If the school district does not administer a preschool program, the liaison may refer the parents to any preschool program in the larger community. The liaison may also refer parents to Head Start or Early Head Start programs in the community.
Do school districts have the responsibility to identify or locate children and youth experiencing homelessness?
Yes. Every school district must designate a homeless liaison for children and youth experiencing homelessness. The McKinney-Vento Act requires liaisons to ensure that “homeless children and youths are identified by school personnel and through coordination with other entities and agencies.” The purpose of identification is to offer appropriate services to the family, child, or youth. Coordination with schools and community agencies is an essential identification strategy, as are professional development, awareness, and training activities within school buildings, school districts, and the community. Do's and Don'ts for District Homeless Liaisons and Enrollment Staff and Ten Strategies School District Can Use to Help Homeless Students provide strategies for homeless liaisons.
What are school districts required to do under the McKinney-Vento Act?
Each school district must designate a homeless liaison. The liaison's responsibilities are to identify and immediately enroll homeless children and youth, then help them succeed in school. The liaison:
- assists with enrollment and dispute-resolution procedures;
- informs the parent/guardian, unaccompanied youth, district staff, and community agencies of the educational rights of homeless children and youth;
- arranges transportation
- obtains necessary school supplies;
- ensures students receive free school meals;
- ensures comparable educational services;
- works in partnership with community agencies; and
- has special responsibilities to assist unaccompanied children and youth.
Do students experiencing homelessness receive services "housed" students do not receive?
Yes. Districts are responsible for removing educational barriers limiting a homeless student's full participation in school. Barriers may include lack of transportation; inability to pay for books, school supplies, eye glasses, program apparel, and the like; or policies (such as residential requirements) which may exclude them from enrollment. Students experiencing homelessness have the right to receive transportation to their "school of origin" - the school the child or youth was attending when permanently housed or last enrolled.
Must private schools comply with the McKinney-Vento Act?
No. Only public schools are required to comply with the McKinney-Vento Act. Individual private schools may determine how they will assist a homeless family or unaccompanied youth.
Are all children and youth that are homeless eligible to receive free school meals?
Yes. Homeless children and youth are eligible to receive free school lunch immediately upon their enrollment and/or identification as being in a homeless situation. Meals can and should begin immediately. The homeless liaison can create a list of students eligible for free school meals, the date free school meals should begin, the end date, and give it to the Food Services Coordinator.
Best Practices in Homeless Education: Guiding the Discussion on School Selection
McKinney-Vento, Law Into Practice series, National Center for Homeless Education, 800-308-2145 (Toll-free Helpline)
Questions and Answers on Special Education and Homelessness
Office of Special Education Programs, February 2008.
Frequently Asked Questions about Homelessness and Special Education
Must school districts identify homeless preschool children who may have special educational needs?
Inclusion of families without a permanent residence in Child Find efforts is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Schools should develop an informed referral network and include families residing in emergency shelters (domestic abuse and homeless), transitional housing programs, and temporary housing arrangements in Child Find efforts.
10 Strategies Districts Can Use to Help Homeless Children
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2004
How Teachers Can Help Homeless Students
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2012.
Team Approach to Support Highly Mobile and Homeless Students
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2012
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act places a strong emphasis on transporting students who are homeless, at the request of their parent or guardian, or an unaccompanied youth, to their school of origin. School of origin is defined as either the school the child attended when permanently housed or the school last attended.
Transportation Strategies for Students Who Are Homeless
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014
Gas Cards Policy - DPI Guidance
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2013
Unaccompanied Children and Youth Who Are Homeless
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
How does the McKinney-Vento Act define “unaccompanied youth”? Is there an age range?
Unaccompanied youth is defined as a homeless child or youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. The McKinney-Vento Act does not provide an age range. Unaccompanied youth and children include young people who have been thrown out of their homes, run away from home, and/or been abandoned by parents or guardians.
Are youth who refuse to live at home considered homeless?
Yes, if the parents are not fulfilling parental responsibilities, which usually includes financial support. In addition to young children living without their parents, at least 1.7 million youth run away from home annually due to family conflict, abuse, and neglect or are thrown out of their homes.
What are the educational rights for unaccompanied youth and children?
Unaccompanied youth and children have the same rights as other students experiencing homelessness. Specifically, they have the right to:
- Remain in their school of origin (to the extent feasible);
- Transportation to and from the school of origin (the school attended when permanently housed or school last enrolled);
- Immediately enroll in a new school serving the area in which they are currently living even if they don’t have required documents (e.g., proof of guardianship);
- Equal access to programs and services such as gifted and talented education, special education, vocational education, and English Language Learner services;
- A list of community agencies that can help meet basic needs.
Some educational rights will differ if the student is over 18 years of age. If a student is 18 or over, he/she does not need a guardian to authorize educational decisions. Although the student is considered an adult in Wisconsin for legal purposes, McKinney-Vento still requires that the homeless liaison assist with educational issues. Five areas for the homeless liaison to assist are: 1) ensure the student is signed up for BadgerCare (access.com), 2) applies for food stamps, 3) discuss the student’s plan for post-secondary education and if appropriate, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA form) for the student, ask if the student wants school directory information shared publicly, and 5) obtain a release form from the student if the parent(s) wants copies of the student’s educational records.
Students under 18 are considered minors and therefore cannot make educational decisions for themselves. The homeless liaison would assist in making educational decisions for the student if the parent is unable or unwilling. The parent(s) or guardian are the legal guardian for students under 18, even if the student is not living with them. The parents have the right to receive educational records until the student turns 18.
All unaccompanied youth and children attending school, no matter their age, should be receiving assistance in making educational decisions from the district’s homeless liaison.
Open Enrollment and Tuition Waiver for Homeless Students
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2006.
DPI's Career and Technical Education Program Information
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2009
WIAA Displaced/Homeless Student Eligibility Process
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association's criteria to determine if displaced/homeless students are eligible for athletic activities. WIAA Form