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Number of Homeless Students Climbs for Eighth Consecutive year

More than 39,000 students don’t have a permanent place to sleep

OLYMPIA — January 27, 2017 — For too many children, time that could be spent studying is spent worrying about where they will sleep.

Numbers released today by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show that in 2015-16, 39,671 Washington students were counted as homeless. The number is an 11.7 percent increase from 2014-15 and nearly double (a 90.9 percent increase) the 2008-09 count.

The numbers are collected annually as part of the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which provides that homeless students be given the same access to education as other students and cannot be separated from other students.

Where feasible, the students can remain in the district they were in before becoming homeless and are provided transportation to and from school.

“Children shouldn’t have to worry about where they will sleep at night,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “But we recognize that there are children who do carry this burden, and we need them to know that school can be a stable force in their lives.”

“Our job is to help every child reach his and her fullest potential,” Reykdal continued. “It’s incredibly difficult for a child to succeed if basic needs are not being met. Compared to students with stable housing, homeless students are more likely to miss school or drop out entirely.”

The four-year graduation rate for homeless students in the Class of 2016 was 53.2 percent; for all students, it was 79.1 percent.

McKinney-Vento also requires districts to record the general area in which a homeless student sleeps:

  • “Doubled-up” – sleeping in someone else’s house;
  • Hotel/Motel;
  • Shelter;
  • Unsheltered (for example, a car, park or campground)

In 2015-16, three out of four homeless students listed “doubled-up” – sleeping in someone else’s house – as the most common type of homelessness.

Specific reasons for the increase in homeless students are difficult to determine at the state level. Many community factors – lack of affordable housing options, unemployment or under-employment, available local services – may contribute. In addition, economic recessions typically hit the poorest people the longest.

McKinney-Vento ensures that homeless children have access to “the same free, appropriate public education, including a public school education, as provided to other children and youths.”

As defined by the law, a student is homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Recently passed state law also provides support for homeless students. In 2016 the state Legislature passed the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act (3SHB 1682). The act’s goal is to provide support to students experiencing homelessness, particularly unaccompanied homeless youth.

One provision of the act created the State Homeless Student Stability Program, which provides supports and resources for the education of homeless students. A total of $785,000 is being awarded for the remainder of 2016-17 to 38 school districts and one charter school. The funds will be used for a variety of programs, such as professional development for staff and partnerships with community-based organizations.

In addition to the State Homeless Student Stability Program funds, Washington receives about $950,000 per year through McKinney-Vento. The money, given to districts in the form of competitive grants, goes 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.

For more information

  • Homeless education in Washington state
  • Historical data
  • Homeless Student Stability Program
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act
  • Homeless Education legislative report (PDF)

    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 Chris Reykdal, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and improve student achievement on behalf of more than one million public school students.

    OSPI provides equal access to all programs and services without discrimination based on sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. Questions and complaints of alleged discrimination should be directed to the Equity and Civil Rights Director at (360) 725-6162 or P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.

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    Nathan Olson
    Communications Manager
    (360) 725-6015 |

The OSPI Communications Office serves as the central point of contact for local, regional and national media covering K-12 education issues.

Communications Manager
Nathan Olson
(360) 725-6015


   Updated 1/27/2017

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