Welcome to our first legislative and policy post. For our first update, we’ll take a quick look back at 2016, and a longer look forward to 2017.

2016 Recap

2016 was a banner year for policies to improve the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. Years of advocacy came to fruition in the form of specific, strong new protections. For our youngest children, final regulations on Head Start and child care address barriers to identification, access, and continuity in early childhood programs. For preK-12 children and youth, the amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act made by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) went into effect on October 1, increasing school access and stability. The US Department of Education issued guidance to assist school districts in implementing these new requirements, as well as final regulations on accountability and state plans under ESSA. For youth and young adults wishing to pursue post-secondary education, the Department announced changes in federal financial aid policies designed to remove some of the unique obstacles faced by unaccompanied homeless youth.

At SchoolHouse Connection, we know that policy victories are only as good as efforts to implement them. It will take training, tools, and technical assistance to ensure that they reach the children and youth for whom they were intended. We’re committed to partnering at the national, state, and local level to implement these policies in 2017 and beyond.

Federal Policy in 2017: The 115th Congress and the New Administration

The current post-election policy environment is characterized by speculation and uncertainty. We will keep you updated as the new Congress and new Administration begin to take action on their stated priorities. In the meantime, we’ve summarized likely and possible areas of Congressional activity below.

Federal Budget/Appropriations for Education and Homeless Programs

Prior to adjourning for the year, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR), a stop-gap measure that continues federal funding at current levels through April 28, 2017, in order to allow Congressional leaders to work with the Trump Administration on a longer-term budget measure. The fate of funding for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program, along with other critical safety net programs, hangs in the balance of this larger budget discussion. The authorization level for the EHCY program was raised to $85 million by the Every Student Succeeds Act, in recognition of the growth in student homelessness and the importance of the program. Whether the EHCY and RHYA programs receive any increase, or are at risk of cuts, will be determined by Congressional action in the early part of 2017.

Higher Education

Both House and Senate education committees held hearings on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in 2016, in anticipation of its reauthorization. It is therefore possible that Congress will undertake action to amend at least some portions of this legislation. Much is at stake for youth experiencing homelessness and youth in foster care. A GAO report documented barriers to accessing financial aid and succeeding in college for both groups of young people, and legislation was introduced to remove those barriers and increase supports for college retention and completion. We will work closely with Congress, young people, and national, state, and local organizations as any new legislation takes shape.

Runaway and Homeless Youth Act

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act provides essential outreach, shelter, and other services to unaccompanied homeless youth. Legislation introduced in the 114th Congress, the Runaway and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYTPA), would have made critical updates to RHYA programs, including new provisions to combat trafficking and discrimination, increase the length of stays in Basic Centers from 21 to 30 days, and require RHYA grantees to assist youth with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). We will support the efforts of our close partners at the National Network for Youth to re-introduce this important legislation in 2017.

HUD Homeless Assistance Programs

Under the Obama Administration, HUD prioritized efforts to “end” homelessness among chronically homeless adults and veterans, often at the expense of services for families and unaccompanied youth. In addition, a narrow focus on housing and a narrow definition of homelessness have prevented communities from meeting the needs of children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. We will continue to advocate for legislation like the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which aligns HUD’s definition of homelessness with the definition used by public schools and other federal programs serving children and youth, and which allows communities to set priorities based on their own assessment of their local needs. We will urge the new Administration to re-evaluate the direction of federal homelessness policy, and to adopt a comprehensive two-generational approach to prevent future homelessness.

The Need for  Advocacy in 2017 and Beyond

Now more than ever, it is imperative to develop, build, and maintain relationships with Members of Congress and their staff about the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness in your community. Setting up meetings in January in local offices is a great way to inform Members of the challenges, and to ask for their help in creating solutions. Sign up for our email updates to stay informed of pending legislation and recommended advocacy action.

For more information on legislation and policy, contact Barbara Duffield at barbara@schoolhouseconnection.org.

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