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Number of Homeless Students Climbs to 21,000
McKinney-Vento law ensures free education even if student has no home

OLYMPIA — December 23, 2010 — They sleep in cars. In parks. In shelters. On the sofas of generous relatives or friends.

They are the more than 1.3 million homeless children nationwide.

Of that total, more than 21,000 live in Washington state, according to numbers submitted to the federal government this past week.

Collected by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the numbers show that during the 2009-10, the state reported 21,826 homeless students, up 5.0 percent from the previous year and up 56.5 percent from 2005-06.

“There are a lot of factors that could explain the increase,” said Melinda Dyer, program supervisor for the education of homeless children and youth at OSPI. “The biggest is probably more awareness. Five years ago, many districts didn’t know that this was a requirement. We’re seeing better reporting now than we did then.

“The present economy also may be driving part of the increase. We have had episodic increases at certain points due to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and our own flooding in Lewis County in 2007.”

Dyer cautioned that the numbers are probably low. “We still have some reporting issues,” she said. “Plus because of the stigma attached to homelessness, some families don’t tell others they are homeless.”

Collecting and reporting homeless numbers is a requirement of the federal McKinney-Kento Act, which applies to all homeless people. Title VII of the act concerns education; it 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.”

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.

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.

Under McKinney-Vento, homeless students must 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 $850,000 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. Districts can use the money 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.

In addition, the state received $1.3 million in federal stimulus money for homeless education. That money was disbursed as one-time grants ranging between $3,500 and $30,000 per district.


About OSPI

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine Educational Service Districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.

OSPI does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual preference/orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.

Nathan Olson
OSPI Communications Manager
(360) 725-6015

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Homeless students in Washington state

2005-06 13,942
2006-07 16,853
2007-08 18,670
2008-09 20,780
2009-10 21,826

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   Updated 12/23/2010

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