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Over 1.5 million: Number of homeless students on the rise, new federal data shows

Belongings of the homeless crowd a downtown Los Angeles sidewalk in Skid Row on May 30, 2019. - The city of Los Angeles on May 29 agreed to allow homeless people on Skid Row to keep their property and not have it seized, providing the items are not bulky or hazardous. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — As homelessness continues to rise in states like California, new federal data shows that the number of students experiencing homelessness is increasing dramatically.

A report by the National Center for Homeless Education was released this week, summarizing data taken from state submissions to the US Department of Education.

The data, taken from public school districts during the 2015-16 school year through the 2017-18 year, shows that students experiencing homelessness at some point during the three-year period increased by 15% — from 1.3 million students to just over 1.5 million.

This growth in students experiencing homelessness seems to be growing across the country. Sixteen states reported growth of at least 10% and eight of those reported a 20% spike. Texas, for example, saw a 100% increase, meaning that the number of students experiencing homelessness doubled.

Only 13 states saw a percent decrease over the three school years, and only five of those states reported a reduction of 10% or more.

Barbara Duffield is the executive director of the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, which works specifically to overcome youth homelessness. In a statement, Duffield called the numbers “alarming.”

“For many of these children and youth, public schools are their best — and often only — source of support,” she said. “Schools exist in all communities, regardless of whether or not there are enough shelter beds; they are required to identify, enroll, and serve homeless children and youth; they use a definition of homelessness that captures the reality of homelessness for youth and families; and they provide the tools children and youth need to succeed.”

Students experiencing homelessness are affected academically. During the 2017-18 school year, just 29% of students reached academic proficiency in reading, while 24% achieved proficiency in math and 26% in science.

The data has limitations, though, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the totality of young people who may experience homelessness, the report states. Children who have dropped out of school, young children not enrolled in preschool and students who may only experience homelessness in the summer are not accounted for in the data.

So, even though the data shows 1.5 million students as experiencing homelessness, the number could be greater.

“Schools and communities need to know who is experiencing homelessness in order to help them succeed — and policymakers at all levels must prioritize action to support these invisible and often over-looked students,” Duffield said.

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