Number of homeless students in WA tops 27,000

McKinney-Vento law ensures free education even if student has no home
Feb 18, 2013

The reasons are varied: job loss. Unforeseen illness. Increasing housing costs. Foreclosures.

The result is the same: homeless students.

According to numbers released this past week by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 27,390 students were reported as homeless in the 2011-12 school year. That number is up 5.1 percent from 2010-11 and up 46.7 percent from 2007-08.

Collecting and reporting homeless numbers is a requirement of the federal McKinney- Vento Act, which applies to all homeless children and youth.

Districts cite many reasons for the increase. The overall job market is still struggling, in addition to local economic factors, such as the closing of a paper mill in Everett and the decline of the logging industry in Shelton and elsewhere.

More students are living on their own. And funding for services that help prevent homelessness is being cut.

In Olympia, one problem is the lack of space at shelters.

“All the shelters are constantly at full capacity with people being turned away on a daily basis due to space issues,” said Sarah Greenwell, the homeless liaison for the Olympia School District.

Districts also say that better reporting and more awareness have lead to more accurate numbers.

“Families are more aware of (McKinney-Vento) and they pass that information on to other families,” said Patty Hoff, the homeless support coordinator for the Bellingham School District. “Also, we are doing a much better job of identification.”

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

McKinney-Vento defines a student as homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. In practical terms, the student is classified as homeless if he or she lives in:


  • Emergency or transitional shelters;
  • Motels, hotels, trailer parks or camping grounds;
  • Shared housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship;
  • Hospitals secondary to abandonment or awaiting foster care placement;
  • Cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing or similar situations; or
  • Public or private places not ordinarily used as sleeping accommodations for human beings.


The lack of a stable home puts tremendous pressure on homeless students. Mobility rates are higher than students in homes, absentee rates are higher, health problems are more prevalent and graduation rates are lower.

Under McKinney-Vento, homeless students must be given the same access to education as other students and cannot be separated from other students. Where feasible, the student can remain in the district he or she was in before becoming homeless and is provided transportation to and from school.

Washington state receives about $950,000 per year from the federal government to help homeless students. That money is given to districts in the form of competitive grants, with money going to districts with the greatest need.

Districts can use the money 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.


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 Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.


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