Washington state is experiencing an all-time high in homeless student numbers.
According to data released by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 40,934 students were counted as homeless during the 2016-17 school year. That's a 3.2 percent spike over the previous year's count, and the ninth year in a row that the homeless student numbers have grown. About one in every 25 K-12 students is experiencing homelessness — roughly one student in each classroom, OSPI notes.
This means that the state is currently experiencing the highest number of students without a home, living in hotels, cars, with friends, or on the street.
“Homelessness puts incredible strain on families,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The students might be staying somewhere unsafe. And they may not have the time or a consistent place to study.”
The largest increase occurred with unsheltered students. This means students living in parks, abandoned buildings, cars, or just on the street. The spike constitutes at 29 percent rise from the previous year (2,134 to 2,753 students).
Reykdal notes that homelessness often contributes to absenteeism. The four-year rate for homeless students in the class of 2017 was 53.9 percent; far behind the 79.3 percent rate for all students.
OSPI says there is little information on why so many students are homeless. It can only cite common issues such as unemployment, under-employment, and lack of affordable housing.
The national McKinney-Vento Act orders that students remain in the same district they attended before becoming homeless. Also, students are to be provided the same access to education as their peers with homes. Washington receives about $1 million each year to put toward programs that assist homeless students.
The homelessness crisis has hit Seattle and King County the worst. Depending on which report is cited, the region either has the third worst homeless population or the country’s worst levels of homelessness.
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