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COVID-19 FAQ: McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program


As COVID-19 disrupts education, services and life across the country, children and youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability are exceptionally vulnerable. This FAQ offers resources and information on educational rights and protections for students who have experienced housing loss or instability during COVID-19.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q 1: What is the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act?

A: Subtitle VII-B of The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act authorizes the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program and is the primary piece of federal legislation related to the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. It was reauthorized in December 2015 by Title IX, Part A, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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Q 2: How do children qualify for McKinney-Vento supports?

A: McKinney-Vento defines “homeless children and youth” as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” To determine a student's McKinney-Vento eligibility, school districts must determine whether a student's living arrangement meets the McKinney-Vento definition of homeless.  This NCHE flowchart provides the categories of housing instability under McKinney-Vento and the process of determining the McKinney-Vento eligibility of students.  

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Q 3: Are students experiencing housing loss due to COVID-19 covered by the McKinney-Vento Act?

A: Yes. Students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate primary nighttime residence due to COVID-19 are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. They are entitled to the same legal protections and services as other students experiencing homelessness and/or housing crises.  Detailed information on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program, including rights and protections, can be found here.

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Q 4: What supports exist in school districts to identify McKinney-Vento eligible students and assist in expedited school enrollment, participation and meals?

A: The McKinney-Vento Act requires every local educational agency to “designate an appropriate staff person” to serve as a McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Liaison. Liaisons are school staff who:

  • specialize in legally qualifying students for McKinney-Vento and are responsible for identifying eligible students
  • expedite enrollment into public school for McKinney-Vento students
  • provide access to free school meals
  • make referrals to other school and community resources
  • inform families and students about transportation services, determining school of origin and mediating disputes.

The school district liaison is a primary point of contact for students who have lost housing due to COVID-19 so the process for determining qualification, rights and services can be made.  Liaisons can also serve as one of the primary contacts between McKinney-Vento eligible families and school staff, district personnel, shelter workers, and other service providers. Access the contact information for Colorado liaisons by school district and the duties and responsibilities of the local liaison through those links. Many resources are available to assist liaisons in accomplishing these duties, including a liaison toolkit.

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Q 5: What are the educational rights of McKinney-Vento eligible students?

A: McKinney-Vento eligible students have the right to:

  • receive a free, appropriate public education; 
  • enroll in school immediately, even if lacking normally required for enrollment, or having missed application or enrollment deadlines during any period of homelessness; 
  • enroll in school and attend classes while the school gathers needed documents; 
  • continue attending the school of origin, or enroll in the local attendance area school if attending the school of origin is not in the best interest of the student or is contrary to the request of the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth; 
  • receive transportation to and from the school of origin, if requested by the parent or guardian, or by the local liaison on behalf of an unaccompanied youth; and 
  • receive educational services comparable to those provided to other students, according to each student’s need.

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Q 6: What are some identification strategies to locate displaced children and youth?

A: During this time of health and economic insecurity, families with children are likely to experience economic hardships that put them at high risk of losing their housing.  Since school buildings may be closed due to COVID-19, varied practices are required for identifying and providing services to children and youth who may qualify under the McKinney-Vento Act. Consider these identification strategies during COVID-19.

Collaboration and coordination with local relief agencies and emergency and disaster response teams are critical for identifying displaced children and youth. Building such relationships and developing a reliable communication system will help ensure that relief agencies and schools work together during and after the pandemic. 

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Q 7: How can we stay connected with our current McKinney students during COVID-19 response and recovery?

A: Students and families are moving even more frequently due to COVID-19 and its impacts, such as family job loss. With these circumstances, maintaining connections is even more difficult. This checklist offers some strategies that liaisons, schools, and early childhood programs can use to keep in touch.

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Q 8: How do we enroll McKinney-Vento students if learning is remote and buildings are closed? How can we contact our existing students/families and assist students that are now losing housing and coming from other counties or other states?

A: Schools must enroll McKinney-Vento students immediately, even during this pandemic. Enrollment means “attending classes and participating fully in school activities. If the school is offering no services or activities whatsoever to any students at this time, then McKinney students also would not receive services at this time. In that context, enrollment may mean simply entering the student into the school database, with a flag or other identification as McKinney-Vento eligible. However, most schools are offering meals and some form of virtual instruction or learning. That means McKinney-Vento eligible students need to be enrolled immediately, so they can participate in any and all activities the school is offering at this time—school meals, virtual classes, social work services outreach, etc.

If there is no distance learning in the LEA, the school/district still should complete the identification and code the students as McKinney-Vento in whatever data system is in use. This will be important in the event the LEA begins distance learning, offering services, and/or when schools re-open.

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Q 9: Can schools require verification or proof of residency as a condition of enrolling McKinney-Vento eligible students?

A: The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to enroll McKinney students immediately, even if the student is unable to provide documents that are typically required for enrollment.  Schools may not require verification or proof of residency as a condition of enrollment. Due to their living situations, it frequently will be impossible for families and youth experiencing a housing crisis to provide such verification. Further, per federal law, schools must not contact the landlords of host families or any other third party to discuss the student’s or family’s living situation. Residence information provided by parents, guardians, or youth to schools is part of the student’s educational records and protected by federal privacy laws; sharing student and family housing information would be a violation of federal law. Such contact could also lead to eviction of the host family. However, the Act does not prohibit schools from requiring parents, guardians, or youths to submit emergency contact information.

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Q 10: Will McKinney-Vento students have to change schools every time they move?

A: Families who have lost housing tend to move frequently.  Changing school with each move can damage students’ emotional security and academic success. Generally, it takes students 4 to 6 months to academically recover from a change in school. For this reason, the McKinney-Vento Act states that McKinney students can continue attending the same school even if they move out of that school’s attendance areas.  This school is called their “school of origin,” and they can remain there the entire time they are McKinney-Vento eligible, if it is considered feasible and in their best interest.  When students find permanent housing, they can finish the school year in their school of origin.  The National Center for Homeless Education developed a helpful resource to assist in determining school selection.

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Q 11: Can distance learning instruction and classes offered by a school be considered a school of origin?

A: Yes. Distance learning instruction and related classes offered by an LEA or SEA are part of the public school system, and McKinney students have the right to continue participating in those programs as their “school of origin” despite changes in their living situation. The LEA’s responsibilities to provide transportation, free meals, and other services are consistent with their responsibilities toward McKinney students in a regular school setting.

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Q12: What considerations should be made regarding transportation and COVID-19?

A: During COVID-19 response and recovery, school districts will determine what learning will look like as decisions are made for summer programming and upcoming school year(s). Models that include a hybrid of in-person and remote learning will need to consider the rights afforded to students experiencing homelessness. Transportation must be arranged promptly as not to create barriers to McKinney students’ attendance, retention, and success. Outside of transportation for in-person learning, some examples of transportation include: access to WiFi for educational purposes, obtaining educational materials/resources, and access to nutritional services. Refer to the NCHE Issue Brief for other considerations related to School of Origin and Transportation.

Colorado Department of Education has COVID-19 Policy Guidance related to Transportation.

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Q 13: What federal funds may an LEA use to defray the excess cost of transportation related to COVID-19?

A: An LEA receiving McKinney-Vento subgrant funds may use these funds to defray the excess cost of school of origin transportation. An LEA may also use Title I, Part A funds reserved to defray the excess costs of transporting McKinney students to and from their school of origin. 

Additional funding sources to support the needs of students experiencing homelessness may be accessed through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (CARES Act) or Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). Colorado Department of Education provides an overview of CARES Act Expenditure Types and Funding Sources

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Q 14: Are McKinney children and youth eligible to receive Title I, Part A services? What types of services may an LEA provide to homeless students with funds reserved under section 1113(c)(3)(A) of the ESEA?  

A: Yes. McKinney-Vento eligible students are automatically eligible for services under Title I, Part A of the ESEA, whether or not they live in a Title I school attendance area or meet the academic standards required of other children for eligibility. Title I, Part A funds may be used to provide a wide variety of services to McKinney-Vento eligible students. In addition to providing services to assist students in meeting the State’s challenging academic standards, Title I, Part A funds may be used to provide services to McKinney students, including those in Title I schools, that may not ordinarily be provided to other Title I students. Examples could include:  

  • student fees that are necessary to participate in the general education program;
  • extended learning time (before and after school, Saturday classes, summer school) to compensate for lack of quiet time for homework in shelters or other overcrowded living conditions; 
  • tutoring services, especially in shelters or other locations where homeless students live

Also, public school districts must set aside Title I funds to be used explicitly to support McKinney students. A full list of Allowable Use of Funds related to McKinney-Vento is available. Given the level of need for students experiencing a housing crisis during COVID-19 and potential school-building closures, districts may choose to increase the amount of Title I funds set aside for McKinney students in response to increased needs.      

Having equitable access to virtual learning will be critical for McKinney students during times when in-person instruction is not available. School districts will need to follow any internal control policy for checking out equipment and technology. There may be additional requirements that tie to the district’s current IT policy regarding use of the internet. Connect with your Homeless Education Liaison if there are technology needs for McKinney-Vento students.

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Q 15: What are other resources that can be helpful for McKinney-Vento eligible students and their families?

A: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Title IX and McKinney-Vento Non-Regulatory Guidance

National Center for Homeless Education Find up-to-date information from the federal government regarding services to support students and families experiencing a housing crisis.  The National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) has many resources related to: Issue Briefs; The Most Frequently Asked Questions on the Education Rights of Children and Youth in Homeless Situations; and Disaster Preparation and Response

Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) has a site designed to provide updates on COVID-related resources and information, including links for individuals seeking assistance. 

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