An Investigation of New York State Education Department's Failed Education of Homeless Children and Youth in New York City

A report by:
Assemblymember, 67th A.D.


Assemblymember Scott Stringer, a native New Yorker and a product of the New York City public school system, was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1992 after more than a decade of political involvement and neighborhood advocacy. Stringer represents the 67th Assembly District on Manhattan's West Side.

Stringer is the Chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Cities and serves on the Education, Higher Education, Housing, Judiciary and Health Committees. Stringer is also a former Chair of the Real Property Taxation Committee, the Assembly Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee and the Task Force on People with Disabilities. Stringer is also a member of the Assembly Task Force on Women's Issues.

Stringer has released the following research reports since 2002:


Assemblymember Scott Stringer prepared this report with the help of his staff:

Alaina Colon, Policy & Communications Director
Felicia Feinerman, Legislative Director
Jason Haber, District Coordinator
Karoline Raeder, Undergraduate Student Intern
John Simpson, Director of Constituent Services
Susannah Vickers, Chief of Staff

For additional copies of this report, please contact Assemblymember Stringer's office by Phone: (212) 873-6368; Email: strings@assembly.state.ny.us.







This report is the first comprehensive analysis to track the New York State Education Department's (SED) efforts over the past four years to implement the federal Education of Homeless Children and Youth program required under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001 (McKinney-Vento). This program was created in 1987, and reauthorized under No Child Left Behind in 2001, to remove barriers and solve problems faced by homeless youth in enrolling, attending and succeeding in school. The program requires schools to immediately enroll students living in temporary housing (STH) as well as allow STH to continue attending their school of origin by providing free transportation. The federal government assists states in complying with McKinney-Vento by appropriating program funding, a portion of which is given to local school districts in the form of subgrants.

Data contained in this report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, allowing my office to examine whether, and/or to what extent, the State's program complies with the federal law. After analyzing the data, we find that the SED is flagrantly denying the City's most vulnerable students the opportunities desperately needed to succeed in school.

By poorly administering the program, our examination has found that the State ignores the law and fails to improve the academic potential of students experiencing homelessness. The SED violates the McKinney-Vento regulations by:

  • Failing to keep STH in their school of origin
    The number of school transfers among STH has not improved since 1999 and remain disturbingly high. While the national average for school mobility is 15 percent,1 an average of 50 percent of STH has transferred schools every year over the past four school years, and some transfer as many as eight times.
  • Failing to ensure free transportation to and from the school of origin
    As homelessness involves frequent moves, often across boroughs, it is crucial for children to stay in their school of origin for educational stability. Yet, it is extremely difficult for homeless families to transport their children to school. Free transportation is a critical provision of the program. However, homeless advocates recount denials of free transportation for their clients.
  • Failing to collect data to show McKinney-Vento compliance
    In violation of McKinney-Vento, the SED has not collected data on STH for the past three years to show compliance with the law. In fact, all data in this report had to be obtained through the New York City Department of Education (DOE).
  • Failing to equitably allocate subgrants to school districts
    Currently, New York City has 63 percent of students living in homelessness, but receives only 38 percent of state program funding.
  • Failing to inform homeless parents on children's educational rights
    According to experts in the field, the SED does a poor job of informing homeless families of their children's educational rights. In fact, there are no public postings anywhere, such as schools or shelters, on the educational rights of homeless children and youth under McKinney-Vento. Families that attempt to exercise their rights face endless bureaucratic obstacles and, often times, flat out denials of their federal protections.

The SED's poor implementation of McKinney-Vento translates into dramatic academic failings of children and youth living in homelessness. Since the passage of McKinney-Vento in 2001, we are able to document the State's dismal four-year track record in improving the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness in the following areas:

  • Chronic Absenteeism
    Forty percent of STH are absent from school 21 or more days per school year, a nine percent increase from the '99-'00 school year.
  • Endless Repeated Grades
    In 2002, just under a third, or 28 percent, of all STH had been held back from advancing to the next grade level. In contrast, 17 percent of students repeat a grade nationwide.2
  • Relegated to the Bottom
    The 2002-2003 school year shows 69 percent of STH attending a non-selective or failing high school.

As the homeless population grows in New York City and around the state, the SED cannot continue to turn its back and leave homeless children and youth behind. McKinney-Vento was drafted to prevent and reverse the sobering trends outlined above. However, poor implementation has led to the institutionalization of such trends. Without the quality education they deserve, STH will find it harder to escape from homelessness, likely face a lifetime of struggling and result in a significant public cost.

The SED has a moral and legal obligation to ensure children and youth experiencing homelessness have a chance to be students that do not fall in a black hole of chronic absenteeism, endless repeated grades and multiple school transfers. Homeless families deserve to know the educational rights of their children and be assured that their children will have the same opportunities to succeed as all New York City's students. The SED must also recognize the special needs of New York City school districts and award McKinney-Vento subgrants equitably. While our analysis is substantive, it is important for the State to keep and evaluate this data as well. It is time for the State to honor these responsibilities and heed our call for reform.

1 U.S. Government Accounting Office, 1994.
2 Southern Regional Education Board, "Finding Alternatives to Failure: Can States End Social Promotion and Reduce Retention Rates?" January 2001.


The State of New York is legally responsible for guaranteeing equal access for STH to a quality education. For many families living without a stable home, or for those thousands of families that live in the city's shelter system, meeting the educational needs of their children is very challenging. These struggling families often move several times during a year, creating much disruption in a student's life - particularly in the child's educational experience. Imagine the stress the average child faces when starting a new school. Imagine further the stress a homeless child must endure upon starting at a new school more than once a year, often lacking the necessary records to make for a smooth transition.

Luckily for these students, a federal law exists to provide extra support for the education of homeless children and youth. From the right to remain at their home school to guaranteed transportation aid, McKinney-Vento gives STH extra legal protections and financial resources that they so desperately need and deserve to succeed in school.

Unfortunately, on many counts, the State is failing to meet its federal mandate to "ensure that homeless children meet the same challenging state academic achievement standards all students are expected to meet."3 This report will outline those shortcomings and propose ways the state can honor its moral and legal obligation to the tens of thousands of children living in homeless shelters and the countless others doubled up with friends and relatives, on the streets or awaiting foster care placement.

Homelessness among NYC Children & Families

As of April 2004, there are 9,057 families and 15,874 children sleeping in New York City shelters. The number of families sleeping in shelters has increased 104 percent since 1998, with 4,429 families in the shelter system only six years ago. Overall, children and families make up 77 percent of the New York City shelter population. Life in shelters can be very traumatizing to children, especially considering that most families stay in shelters for a year at a time. Becoming homeless can seriously disrupt all aspects of family life, but the effects on children's education often start at very early ages. In fact, as the following chart below shows, 43 percent of the 16,341 STH in NYC public schools last year were in grades pre-k through 3.

Homeless Students Enrolled By Grade in NYC Public Schools 2002-2003

New Definition of Homelessness
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, children and youth defined as homeless are "individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence."4 This definition includes not only children and youth living in shelters, but also those living in hotels, friends or relatives' places, substandard housing or awaiting foster care placement. To date, however, the DOE has not updated the Chancellor's regulation on Students in Temporary Housing (A-780) to include this new definition.5

Overview of Educational Rights for Homeless Children
The intent of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program under Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, originally authorized in 1987, is to remove barriers and solve problems faced by homeless youth in enrolling, attending and succeeding in school. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 reauthorized McKinney-Vento and improved the program. The current program is different than the 1987 one in the following ways:

  • Prohibits the separation of students based on a child's status as homeless
  • Ensures transportation to and from the school of origin
  • Requires immediate enrollment regardless of any dispute over school placement
  • Prioritizes best interest of child in determining school placement
  • Mandates a designated local liaison at each school district for STH
  • Restricts amount states may reserve from federal grant allocations

Prohibits the separation of students based on a child's status as homeless
In the past, several schools across the country, including in New York State, would create programs and/or schools specifically for STH. However, under McKinney-Veto, states are "prohibited from segregating STH in separate schools or in separate programs within schools, based on the child's or youth's status as homeless."6 The goal behind this regulation is to fully integrate homeless and housed students to provide for equal educational opportunities.

Ensures transportation to and from the school of origin
The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2000 that the number one barrier for homeless youth in going to school is the lack of transportation.7 In light of this finding, the reauthorized McKinney-Vento program requires free transportation to and from the homeless child's "school of origin." This requirement includes free transportation for parents or guardians of young children. School of origin is defined as the school attended when permanently housed, or the school in which they were last enrolled. The option to stay in the school of origin provides children with stability often not found in other areas of their lives.

Requires immediate enrollment regardless of any dispute over school placement
The school chosen by the homeless student must immediately enroll them even without proper documentation, such as immunization records or proof of residency. Any remaining disputes must be resolved while the student attends the school. This provision preserves as much normalcy in a student's time at school as possible.

Prioritizes best interest of child in determining school placement
According to McKinney-Vento, school districts should define "best interest of the child" as keeping the student in the school of origin, unless it is against the wishes of the parent or guardian. Even if the child finds permanent housing while in school, he/she has the right to stay at the school of origin through the completion of the academic year.

Mandates a designated local liaison at each school district for STH
Regardless of whether a district receives a McKinney-Vento subgrant, it must assign a local liaison for homeless children and youth. The liaison acts as the primary contact among homeless families, school personnel, shelter staff and other social service providers. The liaison helps identify homelessness among students, coordinate services, facilitate enrollment, as well as inform families of their rights to transportation and other educational programs and opportunities, such as Head Start and medical services.

This month, we called the 10 Regional Superintendent's offices to identify each STH liaison. We are pleased to report that each Region was able to identify the name and contact information for each liaison. Please see the attached Appendix A for a list of those individuals.

Restricts amount states may reserve from federal grant allocations
McKinney-Vento places limits on the amount the State Education Department may retain from their federal grant for administrative purposes and sets a minimum amount that must be given subgranted to school districts. According to McKinney-Vento, a state "that receives more than the minimum statutory McKinney-Vento allocation must subgrant at least 75 percent of its allocation" to local districts. Accordingly, if the state receives the minimum allocation, it must subgrant at least 50 percent of its allocation to local school districts.

Requires data collection by states
State coordinators are responsible for collecting data illustrating state compliance with McKinney-Vento. The reauthorized and much-improved McKinney-Vento program provides an immense opportunity for the state to improve the conditions under which homeless children and families access public education. Yet, improvements cannot be developed and accomplished without first compiling and evaluating data on how school districts currently comply with the law.

In September of 2003, our office held a press conference with the Partnership for the Homeless to question Governor Pataki's withholding of as much as $1.25 million in administrative costs from the approximately $5 million in federally-appropriated McKinney-Vento funds. At the time, the State:

  • Lacked a state coordinator to oversee and provide technical assistance to school districts;
  • Failed to educate families in domestic violence and other homeless shelters on their children's rights to school choice, transportation and other support services; and
  • Had yet to determine how to equitably allocate McKinney-Vento funding for New York City's school districts; and
  • Failed to take into account the number of homeless students attending schools in the district in determining subgrant allocations.

Disturbingly, the SED perpetuates many of these same problems today.

3 The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.
4 Ibid.
5 It is unclear the extent to which this new definition is reflected in the data provided by the DOE. The last update to this regulation was on September 5, 2000.
6 U.S. Department of Education, "Non-Regulatory Guidance: Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program," July 2004.
7 U.S Department of Education, "McKinney-Vento Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2000," 2000.


In February, my office issued a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) to the State Department of Education (SED) regarding the experience of STH in New York City public schools. Under the McKinney-Vento Act and the New York State compliance plan,8 the SED is supposed to maintain and collect evaluative data from school districts on the participation and achievement levels of STH since 2001. As such, we requested information on STH for each NYC public school, per school year in the following areas:

  • Enrollment
  • Absenteeism
  • School Mobility
  • Retention Rates

The intent of our requests was to determine how well the State was complying with McKinney-Vento in serving this population of students. In violation of McKinney-Vento, the SED informed our office that it had not been maintaining the data. However, we were able to receive this information from the New York City DOE for school years 1999-2000 through 2002-2003.

8 As required by McKinney-Vento, in July 2002, The State Education Department issued "The New York State Plan for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth," as required by the McKinney-Vento Act.


The SED's failure to administer the program with success causes homeless youth to fail academically. The following sections outline SED's major violations of McKinney-Vento.

A. School Transfers Remain Excessively High

Students that lack a permanent, stable home environment are entitled to special assistance by the government to maintain the continuity of their education. However, the data provided by the DOE reveals a sobering story for many homeless children. From 1999 to 2003, our research uncovers an alarming rate of transferring among STH.

Despite the right for all homeless children to remain at their school of origin, 48 percent of the homeless student population in NYC ended up transferring schools during the 2002-2003 school year, with an average each year of 50 percent. Yet, while the national average for school mobility is 15 percent,9 too many STH are transferring schools not only once, but repeatedly throughout the school year.

Homeless Student School Transfers, 2002-2003

One homeless student out of every 6 transfers two or more times during the year and 1 out of 25 STH transfers three times or more. While very rare, some STH have transferred as many as eight times in only one year. In addition, STH that transfer have a 9 percent chance of doing so three or more times during the year. Such high rates of transferring prove that the SED has failed to prioritize keeping STH in their school of origin. These findings are alarming considering that each time a student transfers, it takes four to six months to catch up academically.10 In addition, children who frequently transfer schools are more likely to repeat a grade than children who have never changed schools.11

B. Broken Down Transportation

Free transportation to and from the school of origin is one of the most critical rights accorded to STH that will ensure their educational stability and academic continuity. An enormous barrier to staying in the school of origin is the lack of easily and quickly accessible transportation aid required under McKinney-Vento. Concurrently, homeless parents who need to accompany their children to school are not accorded assistance by STH staff to secure transportation aid for themselves, an additional violation of McKinney-Vento. As stated above, 43 percent of all STH in NYC public schools are in grades pre-k through 3. In light of this fact, clearly free transportation for parents is crucial in making sure these children are able to arrive at school.

Many students living in homelessness would like to stay at their school of origin, but choose to leave because of the bureaucratic headache involved in accessing transportation. Various state and local laws echo McKinney-Vento's transportation requirements, however Advocates for Children, an agency which assists homeless families, finds transportation denials commonplace. According to Advocates for Children, the DOE denies or never offers bussing to general education (K-6) students. Parents who must accompany their child on public transportation are often denied access to grant money for their trips, even though this is a violation of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) policy, State education law, and the SED's own regulations. Advocates find students who are ineligible for OTDA grants are almost never offered assistance by local schools districts. In turn, without guaranteed free transportation, parents may not be able to get their children to school or may not choose to have their children stay at the school of origin.

If New York excuses itself for failing to provide STH with easy, quick access to free transportation to and from the school of origin due to a lack of funding, it should be reminded that other major U.S cities have found innovative ways to pay for the transportation needs of homeless children and youth. For example, Chicago finds a way to use Medicaid monies and Houston pays to transport its homeless youth to school though its general fund. In one Virginia school district, the administration has found creative ways to go over budget in the short-term until new monies become available in the long-term, all this to pay for taxis to take homeless children to school. It is not impossible to serve this population and New York must pool its resources and devise a system that works for each and every deserving student.

If, however, the reasons behind STH's transportation woes are due to the bureaucracy of the administrative process, the State and City must devise a more streamlined system. Since STH move with such frequency, record keeping can be quite voluminous. However, it is the responsibility of the State and City to ensure that STH be able to get to school despite these obstacles.

C. Data Tracking Off-track

McKinney-Vento requires the SED to collect data on STH from local school districts to show that it is complying with the law. However, a letter, dated March 9, 2004, from the SED in response to our February 2nd FOIL stated:

"Please note that the State Education Department does not currently have the information you requested. Prior to the current school year, school districts had not been mandated to provide this information."12

The reauthorized McKinney-Vento has been in place since 2001. Clearly, the SED has not been collecting the required data for over three years.

To complicate matters, agencies seem to be compiling contradictory data on the numbers of school-aged homeless youth. The data provided by the DOE shows 16, 341 STH. According to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, there are 19,532 school-aged children living in the DHS shelter system during fiscal year 2003 (not to mention the homeless youth that do not sleep in shelters). Yet, the DOE Regions applied for funding to serve only 8,872 homeless students that year. This major gap in data shows significant undercounting of STH and subsequently results in significantly reduced services and funding. The City should have been asking for as much as $870,000 more in funding than they requested last year.

D. Funding Inequities

The State Department of Education has an enormous amount of discretion in its allocation of subgrants to help school districts comply with McKinney-Vento. The SED is required to award competitive McKinney-Vento subgrants to individual school districts. However, the SED determines those allocations without taking into consideration the number of students served. In contrast to other states across the U.S., New York chooses to set an arbitrary subgrant cap of $100,000 that each local school district may receive. As a result, there are several cases in which school districts with low numbers of STH receive the same subgrant amount as districts serving very high STH populations. For example, in 2004 the SED funded the New Rochelle City school district homeless program with $100,000 to serve 101 homeless students. Whereas, the SED also gave school district 12 in New York City the same amount ($100,000) to serve 1,415 homeless students. This lopsided system is ludicrous and the cap should be lifted to create more equitable allocations.

Currently, New York City has 63 percent of the students living in homelessness across the State, but receives only 38 percent of state program funding. In fact, as many as four city school districts did not apply for funding in 2004, despite showing a decent size homeless student population in 2003.

SED Homeless Education Funding 2004 Allocations

Total Number of Homeless Students, NYC vs. Rest of State (2004) Total Funding, NYC vs. Rest of State (2004)

On the federal level, McKinney-Vento includes a maximum nationwide authorization level of $70 million. This past funding cycle, the U.S. only allocated $60 million for McKinney-Vento nationwide. New York State currently receives $6.4 million from the federal government. It is imperative for Congress to fully fund the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program and increase its grant to New York. The Governor and Mayor should both advocate for full aid from Washington.

E. Homeless families left in the dark

According to McKinney-Vento, each local education agency must appoint a liaison for homeless students. The liaisons are charged with ensuring the parents or guardians of homeless children and youths are aware of both the child's educational and transportation rights and opportunities. These liaisons must disseminate information on homeless children's educational rights in places where homeless services, such as shelters or soup kitchens, are administered to families. Yet, there are no public postings in schools, shelters, or other homeless service providers regarding the educational rights of STH. The SED must increase outreach to homeless service organizations to empower families and service providers to help STH succeed.

F. Communication lines cut between State and localities

School districts must collaborate with each other regarding STH transportation as well as the swapping of school records. The SED is also required to monitor subgrant recipients and the programs they help fund. However, according to Advocates for Children, SED just began the process of setting up an advisory committee to address communication. While preliminary meetings have begun, no actions have been taken to permanently improve communication between the State and localities.

G. High turnover + insufficient staff training = poor performance

The State Coordinator, a required position for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program, has been vacated and filled three times in the past 3 years. Sheila Evans-Tranumn is currently considered the official State Coordinator for New York. However, she also serves as the SED's Associate Commissioner for the Office of New York City School and Community Services. Employing a part-time McKinney-Vento coordinator that has other responsibilities for the entire State of New York is sorely inadequate. The State's program deserves a full-time administrator.

In addition, there is an overall lack of training for the staff charged with implementing and enforcing McKinney-Vento. The Regional liaisons need and deserve regular training and support to comply with the federal mandates.

In contrast to New York, states such as Texas and Virginia are known for running good programs statewide because of their sizable, consistent and experienced program staff. According to Barbara Duffield, the Policy Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children & Youth, "New York is routinely and repeatedly out of compliance and lacks a formal system for its handling of the program." Virginia and Texas' Education for Homeless Children and Youth programs are run through academic institutions (the College of William and Mary and University of Texas in Austin respectively). Considering SED's failure to run the program effectively in New York, it may be useful to explore shifting the program to an academic institution that employs experts in the field of education and homelessness.

9 U.S. Government Accounting Office, 1994.
10 Laurence M. Heybeck and Patricia Nix-Hodes, "Reducing Mobility: Good for Kids, Good for Schools," The Beam: The Newsletter of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, 1999.
11 U.S. Government Accounting Office, 1994.
12 Please see Appendix C.


The numbers of students identified as homeless is increasing rapidly. According to the DOE, there were 16,341 STH during the 2002-2003 school year, almost 2 percent of the total registered public school students in New York City. Since 1999, the population of homeless students in New York City has increased by 7,073. As more and more children and youth experience homelessness, the importance of running an effective program increases dramatically.

Education alone is not the cure all to homelessness. However, according to Martha Burt of the Urban Institute, "you cannot claim that failure to complete high school causes homelessness, but it can be argued that if we solved all the factors that prevent poor youth from completing high school, we would reduce the likelihood of becoming homeless." As a state, we need to make sure students living in poverty overall, and homelessness in particular, attend better quality schools, access caring and qualified teachers, and receive help to address the reasons getting to and succeeding in school is so difficult.

The need for this assistance is indisputable. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, "homeless children are:

  • Four times as likely to have developmental delays.
  • Twice as likely to have learning disabilities.
  • Twice as likely to repeat a grade, most often due to frequent absences and moves to new schools (28 percent of homeless children go to three or more schools in a single year)."13

In fact, according to Homes for the Homeless, "children residing in public housing, institutional settings or crowded living quarters were nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to drop out of high school."14 The case has been made. A strong federal law has been passed. Yet, the SED is four years late in accomplishing any meaningful change.

13 National Center on Family Homelessness, "Fact Sheet: America's Homeless Children," http://www.familyhomelessness.org/fact_children.pdf, 2003.
14 Homes for the Homeless/Institute for Children & Poverty and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, "Homeless Families Today: Our Challenge Tomorrow," January 1998.


Despite four years of significant federal appropriations for the reauthorized McKinney-Vento program, our analysis shows that New York City's homeless students continue to face significant barriers to academic success.

A. Endless Repeated Grades

Homeless Students Held Back, 1999-2003

Out of over 16,000 STH, 4,559 students, or 28 percent, were held back from advancing to the next grade level during the 2002-2003 school year. This figure is 8 to 13 points higher than the national average.15 For the past four years, an average of 31 percent of STH has been held back per school year. The State's McKinney-Vento program has not shown any real improvement in preventing STH from being held back. The SED's program should be aimed at reversing this trend. It is an extreme disadvantage to be twice as likely to be held back as the rest of the nation's publicly educated students. Again, with the STH population on the rise, the SED must arrest this trend and significantly improve its McKinney-Vento program.

It is common sense to reason that a highly mobile student who is frequently absent from school will be more likely to fail academically. Thus, high rates of STH being held back show the cumulative effects of a failed McKinney-Vento program. According to Jessica Colon, a therapist for at-risk youth, "these children have to process survival of being safe at home and then academics second."16 If the State fully implements McKinney-Vento to remove barriers for homeless children and youth in receiving educational and social services, STH could more easily put academics at the forefront of their lives. Expanded outreach by the schools to homeless families could dramatically reverse this alarming trend. Yet, local schools and regions need training, support and funding from the SED to accomplish this level of intervention.

B. Chronic Absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism, or students absent 21 or more days throughout the year, is on the rise. During the '02-'03 school year, almost 40 percent of students were absent 21 or more days, a nine percent increase from the '99-'00 school year. Yet, in Florida, another state with a significant homeless population, only 10 percent of students in the general population are absent 21 or more days.17

Short-term absenteeism, or students absent between 0 and 10 days, is also on the upswing. During the '02-'03 school year, 24 percent of students experience short-term absenteeism, a 3 percent increase from the year before. It goes without saying that students who miss school cannot perform to their best abilities. This level of absenteeism among STH is unacceptable and must be addressed by the State.

Homeless Student Absenteeism 1999-2003

C. Relegated to the Bottom

According to my office's analysis of data provided by the DOE, 69 percent of STH attend a non-selective or failing high school. Only one STH attends any of the city's six most selective schools: Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical, High School for Math Engineering and Science at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, and Stuyvesant High School.

Out of the total homeless high school population of 2,866, 910 STH, or 32 percent, attend schools defined by SED as failing. Nine hundred, or 31 percent, of all STH attend the unscreened programs in the City's least selective neighborhood high schools. Of STH attending these unscreened zone schools, 364 of them attend zone schools classified as failing. An additional 105, or 4 percent, of STH attend schools that have been taken over by the Chancellor because of poor performance and 472 STH, or 16 percent, attend the City's alternative high schools.

For years, students have been allowed to apply to high schools of their choice. However, this application process can be very complicated. Additionally, it may involve criteria, such as attendance rates, that place students experiencing homelessness at a disadvantage. If the application process is daunting for housed students, it must be completely overwhelming, or understandably, not a priority, for homeless families fighting for a safe place to sleep or to feed their children. The SED must provide additional outreach and assistance to these families to ensure STH have equal access and opportunity to succeed in the high school admission application process.

The figures above seem to paint a portrait of passive segregation of STH. Lack of community outreach likely exacerbates this alarming trend. Whether intended or not, it is unacceptable to keep these students from participating with same potential for success as other students in choosing better schools to attend throughout the City. Our analysis leaves no doubt that New York State is failing to accomplish the mission of McKinney-Vento.

15 Southern Regional Education Board, "Finding Alternatives to Failure: Can States End Social Promotion and Reduce Retention Rates?" January 2001.
16 Interview with Jessica Colon MS, NCC, Mental Health Therapist, September 3, 2004.
17 Florida Department of Education, "Chronic Student Absenteeism 2002-03," Florida Information Notes, www.fldoe.org.


  • The SED should develop a statewide student identification program to assist schools in quickly accessing academic and background information on incoming transfers. According to Education Week's Quality Counts 2004 report, twenty-five other states have already developed this program. Please see Appendix B for a complete listing.
  • The SED should regularly track and evaluate all data contained in this report on STH, including school mobility, attendance and other measures of academic achievement.
  • The subgrant funding cap should be lifted and the SED should, instead, set a minimum amount per student. It is likely that the amount the State receives from the federal government is not enough to cover the State's homeless student population. Therefore, the State should both request more money from the federal government and, in the meantime, identify another source of state revenue to bridge this gap.
  • The SED and DOE should seek out and better assist homeless families with the high school admission process so that STH can gain access to better quality schools. This outreach could be in the form of regularly held trainings for parents and unaccompanied youth on their rights under McKinney-Vento.
  • Collaboration between the SED, DOE, individual school districts, DHS, and other interrelated agencies should be required, and take place in the form of regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Outreach to parents about the educational rights of homeless children should be increased dramatically in shelters, social services, or other areas these families congregate.
  • The SED should hire a full-time McKinney-Vento State coordinator. Staff development and recruitment should occur to maintain experienced and consistent personnel to administer the McKinney-Vento program. The State should also consider allowing an academic institution administer the program to avoid many of the bureaucratic problems it faces today.
  • The Chancellor's regulation A-780 for Students in Temporary Housing should be updated to reflect the changes in the reauthorized McKinney-Vento Act of 2001.
  • The DOE should be more aggressive and diligent in holding SED accountable for its failings regarding McKinney-Vento, particularly concerning funding equity and technical support.


Too many homeless students in New York City do not know their educational rights, start a new school more than once a year, will end up attending a failing high school and have a lower likelihood of graduating. The State's education system must recognize that students experiencing homelessness are capable of reaching the same academic standards as any other student. The State falls far behind the rest of the country in complying with McKinney-Vento. As Barbara Duffield states, "a world-class city such as New York should be embarrassed at its failure to ensure educational access and stability for its most vulnerable children and youth. Despite the existence of strong federal law, New York City lags far behind the nation in its implementation of programs and services for homeless children."

With half the STH transferring at least once throughout the year, a third absent for more than 21 days, 69 percent of STH attending a non-selective or failing high school, and 28 percent failing to pass a grade, our education system is not appropriately serving these students. The State must act with immediacy to reverse the trends documented in this report. The State should adopt our recommendations and acknowledge its moral and legal obligation to the growing population of children and youth experiencing homelessness in New York City.

APPENDIX A: Contact list for Regional STH Liaisons in New York City

STH Liaison
Harvey Kaplan
Adaye Delacruz
Sara Nunez
Merna Eatmon
Marjorie Elliott (Acting)
Natasha Beaufils
William Bonner
Patricia Totaro
Bo Diaz
Roberto Reyes

APPENDIX B: States that have a statewide student-identification system (2003)18

South Dakota
West Virginia

18 Education Week, "Quality Counts 2004, Count Me In: Special Education in an Era of Standards," http://www.edweek.org/sreports/qc04/.


March 9, 2004 Letter from SED