This week, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported that 35,511 students were homeless in the 2014-15 school year—a 9.1 % increase from the previous year. This alarming increase underscores the enormous scope of the challenges facing students who are experiencing homelessness. The data reveals that homelessness disproportionally impacts students of color. African American, American Indian, and Latino students are 2 to 3 times more likely to be homeless. We estimate that between 2,600 and 4,400 of these students may be unaccompanied homeless youth who are not in the custody of a parent or guardian.
Homelessness has a significant impact on a student’s ability to learn. OSPI noted that homeless students have a graduation rate of 51.9%, compared to 78.1% in the general population. It is estimated that every time a student changes schools they lose 4-6 months of educational progress. Schools receive little support to address the needs of homeless students. Only 34 of Washington’s 300 school districts receive modest federal grants under the federal McKinney-Vento Act to help support homeless students, leaving many districts to tackle this crisis alone.
The Washington State Legislature has an opportunity this session to help address the needs of the state’s growing homeless student population. The Homeless Student Stability Act (SB 6298 and HB 1682) now being considered would create two state-funded grant programs to increase the number of schools receiving support for their homeless students and encourage schools to partner with local housing providers to link homeless students and their families with stable housing. The bill is sponsored by Senator David Frockt (D-Seattle) and Representative Jake Fey (D-Tacoma).
“Each year, we see an increase in the number of students living in motel rooms, temporary shelter, or with no place to call home at all,” said Katara Jordan, staff attorney with the Children & Youth Project at Columbia Legal Services. From preschool to high school, our state has the opportunity to assist students who are experiencing homelessness and address the opportunity gap by investing in innovative policies that will help schools serve these students. Schools and communities can work together to help vulnerable students and their families create a safe, stable home. Our State is working to ensure that all children have access to a basic education, and it is important homeless students are not forgotten.”