New Flexibility for Schools to Pay for Transporting Homeless Students

A fleet of school buses.

The Consolidated Funding Act approved by Congress last month includes a policy change that will enable school districts to use federal funding for disadvantaged students to pay for homeless students’ transportation to their “school of origin.”

Until this year, funds authorized under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which are granted to schools and school districts with high numbers or percentages of students from low-income families, could not be used to transport homeless students.

Another part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, requires school districts to provide students who become homeless with transportation to the school they had been attending (their “school of origin”) if attending that school is in their best interest.

But getting young people to school can be expensive, says Dona Bolt, state coordinator for homeless education at the Oregon Department of Education.

“School-of-origin transportation for homeless students is probably the largest line item for school districts related to homeless students,” she says. “A lot of districts, smaller districts, have a hard time meeting the obligation to provide school of origin transportation to a different school district if it’s separate from the usual yellow bus transportation.”

Schools sometimes have to enable students to take public transportation, taxis or a car service. And until now some districts have had to do that by dipping into their general funds or soliciting donations, Bolt says. Now, if the district receives Title I, Part A funds, that money can be used to transport students to any school inside or outside the district.

Budgeting Flexibility

The new ability to use Title I, Part A, dollars to pay for transportation won’t change things for students, per se, Bolt says.

“They’re going to get to school no matter how the district provides the transportation,” she says. “The difference is in how the district is able to pay for it. It’s budgeting flexibility that we weren’t allowed before. Now we can use donated funds on other things kids might need: clothing, education support, space heaters, prevention of homelessness by providing utilities and rent.”

The Funding Act also clarifies that Title I, Part A dollars can

  • Serve the unique needs of homeless students by providing services different from those ordinarily provided with Title I, Part A funds.
  • Support local homeless liaisons, who coordinate services for homeless students and their families.

“Districts need flexibility to use funds in a way that best meets the needs of homeless youth,” says Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Duffield suggests that social services providers who work with homeless youth meet with their school district’s federal programs liaison and homelessness liaison (who are sometimes the same person) to share information about the specific needs of homeless students in the district. (If you’re a grantee of the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, you’re required to coordinate with your local homeless liaison.)

Guidance on the new policies for the use of Title I, Part A, funds will be forthcoming from the Department of Education.

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