The number of schoolchildren experiencing homelessness in Washington state has more than doubled in the past decade. According to a new report, their lack of stable housing takes a significant academic toll.
There were 40,934 K-12 students in Washington who experienced homelessness in the 2016-2017 school year, up from 39,671 the previous year. In the 2007-2008 school year, there were 18,670 students classified as homeless.
The nonprofit group Building Changes, through its Schoolhouse Washington project, compiled data from the state superintendent’s office to see how those children are doing in school compared with students who have stable housing.
The definition of homelessness under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act includes students living without shelter, in shelters, in motels and ones who live doubled up with family or friends.
The researchers found that on English language arts and mathematics standardized tests, students classified as homeless scored well below their peers who had stable housing.
“It really comes down to the instability – the not knowing where you’re going to lay your head at night, the not knowing where you’re going to sit down and do your homework,” said Liza Burell, program director with Building Changes. “How are you supposed to prioritize learning if you don’t have any of that other stuff solidified in your life?”
The researchers also found that students who experienced homelessness had lower attendance rates and were suspended from school at a higher rate than students who were housed.
For example, 10 percent of students identified as homeless were suspended at least once during that 2016-2017 school year, twice the rate of students who had stable housing.
“We need to all acknowledge that certain groups of students really need more,” Burell said. “We need to be able to give them more.”
Washington lawmakers created the Homeless Student Stability Program in 2016 to help families find stable housing, but Burell said the program should be expanded because there are so many students in need.