For homeless students, their place of residence can change daily from a couch, to a campground, to a homeless shelter. With an environment that is constantly changing, school may not be a top priority. While getting an education can be life-changing for these students, getting them to and from school can often be difficult.
Read the original blog post by School Bus Fleet HERE
Despite the challenges these situations can bring, school districts must find a way to help students receive an equitable education, per the McKinney-Vento Act. That starts with access to transportation.
According to data gathered by the National Center for Homeless Education, nearly 1.1 million students were identified as homeless during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s down from 1.27 million the previous school year. Due to COVID-19 operations impacting the identification of students defined as homeless, this may not paint an accurate picture of homeless students in America. In some cases, it became more difficult to count the number of homeless students. That’s because some students simply disenrolled from school during the pandemic. Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, told Education Week that some students moved, while others lost touch during remote learning or otherwise became disconnected from their schools entirely during the pandemic.
The Importance of Providing Transportation
McKinney-Vento students are often dealing with stressors outside of the classroom that can make it difficult for them to succeed in school. Providing a daily educational setting that is consistent for these students, regardless of what is going on outside of school, can help them grow and develop.
Students need a source of stability and a reliable environment. That’s why it’s important to continue to transport them to and from the same school, even if their “home” setting changes to a location that is outside the zone for the school they started the school year at. The McKinney-Vento Act requires states to work with school districts to continue to provide transportation to the student’s school of origin, or the school the child attended when they were last permanently housed, or where they were last enrolled.
Since different schools move through curriculum at different rates, staying at one school gives these students the same access to high quality instruction and relationships with educators as their housed peers, Rankin explains. It allows the students to be known and supported by one building staff all school year.
Alternative Transportation Options
This is where alternative transportation providers help aide in the efforts of ensuring all students have access to an education. Companies like EverDriven exist to provide pupil transportation in situations that can be challenging for school districts to find solutions for, especially in cases where students move outside the zone for their school of origin. EverDriven uses alternative modes of transportation like sedans and minivans to provide safe, reliable transportation. Through OMNIA Partners, Public Sector, the cooperative contract with EverDriven helps public agencies ensure students have a secure method of transportation, all while saving time, money, and resources.
During the previous school year, EverDriven transported 21,000 unique students across the 28 states it provides services in. Of those students, nearly half were considered McKinney-Vento students or students in foster care.
What makes transporting McKinney-Vento students different than traditional students, EverDriven CEO Mitch Bowling explains, is that their pickup and drop-off locations can change almost daily. In some cases, it can change in the middle of the school day. EverDriven has a team that is focused on efficient routing, where team members communicate on a daily basis with the school districts they serve. When the district is informed a student will need to be taken to a different location, the routing team works to find the best solution using its proprietary software. That may mean changing a driver’s route, or switching drivers entirely.
Companies like EverDriven don’t exist to replace school buses entirely, Bowling emphasizes. They are meant to work alongside school buses. For instance, transporting a single student from the district they currently have shelter to their school of origin by school bus can be an expensive way to provide that transportation. McKinney-Vento students and students with special needs can benefit from using these alternative modes of transportation.
Going to school is about more than just providing an education for these students, Bowling says. It gives them a sense of routine and allows them to socialize and interact with other students. In many cases, school can also be a child’s only meal for the day.
Overcoming Transportation Challenges
School districts may face barriers to providing transportation to homeless students. Funding can lead to poor transportation offerings, Rankin says.
Districts are still required to use other funding sources, like local education agency (LEA) transportation funds, to transport homeless students, even if districts do not receive McKinney-Vento funding.
School districts must determine if, financially, it is best to transport these students using school buses or alternative modes of transportation, like the light-duty vehicles EverDriven uses for its services. Not using school buses prevents additional wear-and-tear and saves money on fuel.
It’s also worth comparing the cost of using school buses to other types of transportation, like public transportation, says Emily Teeter, state homeless coordinator for the Iowa Department of Education. The department encourages districts to explore alternative modes of transportation, as well as mileage reimbursement or gas assistance. When a student moves out of their school district of origin, or even across state lines, the department encourages districts to share transportation with the district where the student is currently seeking shelter.
The National Center for Homeless Education provides an array of resources for school districts to help them navigate providing for the needs of McKinney-Vento students. Among those is the Homeless Liaison Toolkit, which Iowa uses for its district liaisons. Liaisons act as point persons for homeless students, working alongside them to adequately communicate their needs. The Homeless Liaison Toolkit’s transportation chapter spells out requirements for school districts, as well as advice on considering the best mode of transportation for these students.
Read the original blog post by School Bus Fleet HERE