1,301,239: Homeless Students in Public Schools Up 38% Since 2009-10

Susan Jones | April 12, 2016 | 9:10am EDT
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(AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The number of homeless students is steadily rising in this country, up 38.44 percent since the 2009-10 school year, based on data submitted by state and local education agencies, including those in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Education Department says 1,301,239 homeless students were enrolled in the nation's public schools in the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

That's a 6.67 percent increase from the 1,219,818 homeless students enrolled in 2012-13; a 14.86 percent increase from the 1,132,853 enrolled in 2011-12; a 22.09 percent increase from the 1,065,794 in 2010-11; and a 38.44 percent increase from the 939,903 in 2009-2010.
The greatest growth in the most recent school year was seen in preschool-aged children and ninth grade students.

Homeless students are defined as those who "lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence."

These students fall into four categories for data collection purposes, including sheltered (living in homeless shelters, other transitional programs, or awaiting foster care placement); unsheltered (living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, etc.); living in hotels or motels; and doubled up (sharing housing with others for hardship reasons).

In 2013-14, the vast majority of homeless students (989,844 or 76 percent) fell into the doubled-up category, followed by those in shelters (186,265 or 15 percent), those in motels/hotels (80,124 or 6 percent) and the unsheltered (42,003 or 3 percent).

The Education Department places homeless students in four subgroups. Homeless children with disabilities comprise the largest subgroup, followed by homeless students with limited English proficiency; unaccompanied homeless youth who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian; and migratory children (related to seasonal agricultural work).

Some children fall into more than one of those subgroups, and each of those four subgroups saw growth over the three-year period 2011-12 through 2013-14.

The nation's public schools (including D.C. and Puerto Rico) are required by law to provide all children with equal access to education at the elementary and secondary levels, regardless of their immigration status, but the Education Department does not categorize homeless students based on whether they are in the country legally or illegally.

However, high-immigration states such as California, New York and Texas have the largest numbers of homeless students, while Wyoming, Vermont and South Dakota have some of the lowest numbers, based on data compiled for the Education Department by the National Center for Homeless Education.  

Notably, Tennessee's population of homeless students more than doubled year-to-year in 2013-14, increasing 107.15 percent to 29,663 -- the largest percentage increase of all the states.

As President Obama noted in December 2014, "Nashville’s got one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country." The president went there to take part in an immigration town hall. He hailed the "new Nashvillians” as coming from Somalia, Nepal, Laos, Mexico, and Bangladesh. "And Nashville happens to be the home of the largest Kurdish community in the United States as well," Obama said at the time.

On the opposite end of the scale, Alabama recorded a 35 percent year-to-year drop in homeless students in 2013-14 (to 19,266). In 2011, Alabama passed one of the strictest immigration laws in the country. Although HB 56 was largely rejected by the courts, it reportedly accounted for an exodus of illegal aliens.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed last December by President Obama, the nation's growing population of homeless students soon will have new support for enrolling in public schools and continuing their education.

According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, as of Oct. 1, the new law will require the nation's 17,170 public school districts to:

-- designate and train school personnel to identify, enroll and support homeless students;

-- increase "school stability" for homeless children, meaning homeless children can stay in the same school if it is in their best interest to do so, even if they move to another shelter or motel, for example;

-- ensure college counseling and access to documentation for financial aid;

-- help young homeless children get into early childhood programs;

-- authorize more funding to support school district efforts to identify and serve homeless children and youth.

"Swift implementation of this law is essential to ensure that homeless children and youth receive the education that is their best hope of escaping poverty and homelessness as adults," Barbara Duffield, Policy and Program Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), said in a news release last week.
"These new policies represent best practices from states and school districts across the country, and we look forward to working with schools, communities, families, and youth to implement them."

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