Equity & Diversity

Enrollment of Homeless Students Hits New Record in U.S. Schools

By Evie Blad — September 23, 2014 1 min read
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There were a record 1,258,182 homeless students enrolled in American public schools during the 2012-13 school year, a nearly 8 percent increase from the previous year’s levels, new U.S. Department of Education data released this week show.

Homelessness in schools has increased dramatically in recent years, children’s advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children noted in a news release.

“The new data means that a record number of kids in our schools and communities are spending restless nights in bed-bug infested motels and falling more behind in school by the day because they’re too tired and hungry to concentrate,” First Focus President Bruce Lesley said in a statement.

About 75 percent of homeless students were “doubled up,” sharing homes with other families, schools reported. Another 16 percent lived in shelters, 6 percent lived in hotels or motels, and 3 percent went without shelter, the data show.

For the first time, the Education Department required schools to report whether homeless students were living with their parents or on their own. The report classified nearly 76,000 homeless students as “unaccompanied.”

As I reported for our War on Poverty series, advocates say homelessness has been exacerbated by an inadequate supply of public housing and assistance, growing rent costs, and relatively flat income levels in recent years. Federal public-housing programs, administered by a patchwork of state and local agencies, typically target rental aid to those earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. An estimated 19.3 million families were eligible for the assistance in 2011, but only 4.6 million received it, according to a December 2013 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

And, as my colleague Lauren Camera reported on Politics K-12, the Government Accountability Office has called for more accountability to ensure that a federal program that targets homeless students is doing enough to meet their educaitonal needs.

With the release of the new homelessness data, children’s organizations advocated for the passage of the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which would broaden the definition of homelessness, remove some federal restrictions on how local agencies can spend housing assistance funds, and increase federal data tracking of homelessness.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.