The need for the McKinney-Vento Act is readily apparent at a time like this. Yet the U.S. Department of Education is seeking broad authority to waive the obligations of school districts to serve these children, a large percentage of whom are low-income and African-American. The danger of such broad waiver authority is that waivers could be granted that undermine the purpose of the statute, and create the risk that Katrina victims would:
be schooled in racially and economically segregated temporary school facilities;
receive inappropriate or inadequate education services, including services to students
be denied equal educational opportunity.
The first of these risks was highlighted in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“Separate but Equal? Schooling of Evacuees Provokes Debate,” September 14, 2005), which noted that some districts have requested waivers of McKinney-Vento requirements as part of an effort to educate students made homeless by Hurricane Katrina in separate facilities. Separate schooling for Katrina victims would represent a particularly inappropriate response to the plight of the displaced students, and further highlights why broad waiver authority should not be granted by Congress. While Katrina victims might need a range of mental health supports based on the trauma they have experienced, the provision of such services is already contemplated in McKinney-Vento and can take a range of forms other than separate schooling.
We know of no good reason why students made homeless by Hurricane Katrina should have fewer rights than other homeless students. Nor is there a need to create additional educational barriers for these traumatized students. At a time when Katrina victims are experiencing all the stress of dislocation and disruption, enrollment in regular school programs can provide a crucial aspect of normalcy.
The McKinney-Vento Act has opened the doors of school to children made homeless by the hurricane. Numerous schools nationwide are using the Act successfully as a tool to stabilize and support students displaced by Katrina. This is true in those states serving large numbers of evacuees as well as those with fewer displaced children.
To the extent that specific districts and states need additional support in meeting McKinney- Vento’s requirements, this should be addressed through the provision of emergency funding, such as that called for by the American Association of School Administrators. S. 1715, the Hurricane Katrina Education Relief Act, would provide some of this needed funding. We wholeheartedly support funding provisions that would help impacted districts meet McKinney- Vento requirements as the best and most appropriate alternative to waiving those requirements.S