Report Finds Significant Increase in Student Homelessness

The National Center for Homeless Education released a report, Federal Data Summary: School Years 2015-16 through 2017-18, which summarizes data about the demographics and academic performance of grade school and high school students experiencing homelessness. The number of students enrolled in public school districts that were identified as experiencing homelessness increased 15% between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 school years. More than 1.5 million children in the public school system were identified as experiencing homelessness.

The report summarizes data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education about students in public school districts who were experiencing homelessness during school years 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education are required to report such information to ensure that they are meeting the goals of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (EHCY). The EHCY program, part of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, requires public schools to identify, enroll, and stabilize the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness. McKinney-Vento specifies that children and youth experiencing homelessness have a right to school enrollment, to remain in their school of origin, to receive transportation to school, and to receive supports for academic success.

During the 2017-18 school year, states identified 1,508,265 enrolled students as experiencing homelessness, an increase of 15% between 2015 and 2018. Sixteen states reported that their homeless student populations grew by 10% or more during that period. The rate of increase varied by grade level; for example, the number of first graders experiencing homelessness increased by 4.9%, the number of fifth graders experiencing homelessness increased by 20.3%, and the number of high school seniors experiencing homelessness increased by 22.9%. Students were included only if they were enrolled in a public school and identified by a local education agency’s homelessness liaison. Consequently, the authors note that their count may underestimate the total population.

Homelessness liaisons report students’ primary nighttime residence at the time they are identified as experiencing homelessness. During the 2017-2018 school year, 74% of students so identified were doubled-up with others due to a loss of housing or economic hardship, 12% were in shelters or transitional housing, 7% were living in hotels or motels, and 7% were unsheltered. Compared to 2015-2016, the number of unsheltered students rose by 137%, and the number of students in hotels or motels rose 24%.

States also report information about several subgroups of homeless students. In 2017-18, 8.6% of all homeless students (129,370) were unaccompanied youth, not in the custody of a parent or guardian. More than 17% of homeless students (261,384) were English learners, although only 10% of the total student population are English learners. The share of students in the public school system with an identified disability is less than 14%, while the percentage of homeless students with an identified disability was 18% (271,464) in 2017-18.

States are required to administer regular academic assessments in reading, mathematics, and science in order to assess how well they are enabling all children to meet academic achievement standards. The Department of Education’s database includes data on the performance of homeless students on those assessments. Interstate comparison is difficult, because states define and measure student achievement in different ways. Measuring progress over time is also complicated, because the students experiencing homelessness may change from year to year. The authors compare the percentage of homeless students who received proficient scores on state assessments to the percentage of economically disadvantaged students who received proficient scores. (“Economic disadvantage” is defined in various ways by states, but households that are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or free school meals are identified as economically disadvantaged in some states.) Economically disadvantaged students consistently outscore homeless students by approximately 10 percentage points in most subjects and grades.

The final section of the report summarizes information about agencies or programs that collect data beyond what is gathered by the Department of Education to highlight how more robust interventions could be developed. The authors note that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) administers Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which track enrolled, homeless students. The Street Outreach, Basic Center, and Transitional Living Programs administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the ACF collect information about youth served. Continuums of Care are required to assure the education rights of children served and designate homelessness liaisons.

The report is at:

More information about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs is on page 4-65 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide.