The latest data released by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction shows nearly 41,000 students counted as homeless during the 2016-2017 school year. A 3.2 person increase over the previous count.
“It’s tragic,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told Seattle’s Morning News. “There’s obviously a lot more going on than studying math and science for a kid. We’ve got 41,000 students struggling with homelessness. That’s top of mind for them…”
According to the data, homelessness is top of mind for one in every 25 students in Washington state public education. However, the number of homeless students could be even higher. Reykdal says the numbers have been under-reported in some districts. But schools are improving their methods and becoming more consistent.
Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma school districts have the highest concentration of homeless students.
A student is considered homeless if he or she experiences dislocation from a primary residence. That includes couch surfing and even staying with relatives.
Reykdal notes that homelessness often contributes to absenteeism. The four-year rate for homeless students in the class of 2017 was 53.9 percent; far behind the 79.3 percent rate for all students.
Though Washington state has one of the largest populations of homeless students, Reykdal says it’s possible that many states don’t require the same level of counting.
But how, in a state where there is so much prosperity, can there be so many homeless students? It’s likely the same reason the total number of homeless people in the state is on the rise.
“We’ve got a much bigger conversation here about inequality,” Reykdal said.
Washington state’s overall homeless population continues to rise while they reportedly fall in other states. During a recent point-in-time count, half of all homeless people in the nation were living in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington.
In Washington, and the Puget Sound region in particular, lack of affordable housing has been widely blamed for the high number of people living on the streets and in shelters. Leaders continue to push new legislation, but the problem persists.
Listen to the entire conversation with Reykdal here.