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Letter to the House of Representatives regarding the definition of homeless students

July 14, 2008

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the National Education Association's (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to express our disappointment that the manager's amendment for reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act does not align HUD's definition of homelessness with the statutory definition used by the Department of Education. Specifically, we urge the Committee to include in the HUD definition children and youth verified as homeless by public schools.

The Department of Education definition of homelessness reflects the realities of family and youth homelessness. Public schools are the cornerstone of communities; no other entity has the same level of daily contact with children, youth, and families. Schools see the scope and the depth of housing problems in every community in the nation, and therefore are among the most accurate barometers of family and youth homelessness. Schools serve children whose families cannot get into shelters because they are full, or non-existent. Schools also serve children and youth who are excluded from shelters because of eligibility rules.

Homeless children and youth are at grave risk of educational failure and dropping out of school. Children who are moving from place to place - and are tired, hungry, sick, and traumatized - face significant barriers to academic success. Yet, the narrow definition proposed in the manager's amendment will undercut public school efforts to help these children. The definition will make it harder for schools and other agencies to work together and will prevent vulnerable children and youth from receiving the services they need to come to school ready and able to learn.

By aligning HUD's definition more closely with the Department of Education, communities will be better equipped to serve these vulnerable children and youth. We urge the Committee to postpone consideration of this legislation until this issue can be resolved, or to adopt an amendment that would include in the HUD definition children and youth who are verified as homeless by public schools.

Thank you.


Diane Shust, Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody, Manager of Federal Advocacy