Number of homeless students tops 30,000McKinney-Vento law ensures free education even if student has no home
For the sixth year in a row, the number of homeless students in Washington state has increased.
Numbers released recently by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show that 30,609 students were counted as homeless. The number is an 11.8 percent increase from 2011-12 and a 47.3 increase from 2007-08.
Collecting and reporting homeless numbers is a requirement of the federal McKinney- Vento Act, which applies to all homeless children and youth.
Specific reasons for the increase are difficult to determine at the state level. Many community factors – such as lack of housing options, a major employer moving out of a region, the local job market – may contribute.
The McKinney-Vento Act ensures that homeless children have access to “the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths.”
The lack of a stable home puts tremendous pressure on homeless students. Mobility rates are higher than students in homes, absentee rates are higher, health problems are more prevalent and graduation rates are lower.
McKinney-Vento defines a student as homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. In practical terms, the student is classified as homeless if he or she lives in:
Emergency or transitional shelters;
Motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds;
Shared housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship;
Hospitals secondary to abandonment or awaiting foster care placement;
Cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing or similar situations; or
Public or private places not ordinarily used as sleeping accommodations for human beings.
Districts are required to annually report their homeless student numbers based on the McKinney-Vento definition.
The law requires that homeless students be given the same access to education as other students and cannot be separated from other students. Where feasible, the student can remain in the district he or she was in before becoming homeless and is provided transportation to and from school.
Washington state receives about $950,000 per year from the federal government to help homeless students. That money is given to districts in the form of competitive grants, with money going to districts with the greatest need.
The money can be used for a variety of activities for homeless students, including: helping to defray the excess cost of transportation; tutoring, instruction and enriched educational services; supplies and materials; and early childhood education programs. Districts that do not receive McKinney-Vento grant funding can use Title I or other state or federal funding sources to support the educational needs of homeless students.
All districts are required to have a homeless liaison, who is tasked with identifying, enrolling and setting up services for homeless students.
Homeless students in Washington state