Washington State is making great strides in reducing the number of homeless children in the state. It is estimated that the current homeless student population in Washington State is 30, 609. A key component in this work is to be able to identify which populations are especially susceptible to homelessness and to work on ways for schools and legislators to identify them and provide appropriate services.

On March 11th, the Homeless Children’s Education Act (HCEA) was passed by the Washington legislature, which aims to address these very issues. Columbia Legal Services in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Law Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic worked on the language of the bill to ensure the right data would be collected and reported to best serve homeless and at-risk students. The Act requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to track and release demographic data and educational outcomes for homeless students in the K-12 public school system including data on:

  • Level of English language proficiency
  • Dropout rates
  • Graduation rates
  • Absenteeism, suspension, expulsion
  • Racial makeup.

The HCEA also requires a training video be made about homeless students and how to provide them resources, which will be made available to all the school district staff. In addition, staff will be encouraged to attend yearly trainings on this issue and to provide information about services available to homeless students.

This is a great step forward in learning about homeless youth populations and how to best serve them. The bill raises the profile of homeless students for teachers and school staff so they can be on the lookout for students who may need assistance and takes concrete steps to track and use the information collected to achieve better outcomes. The bill also serves as a useful model for other states that are looking for ways to collect demographic information and establish programs to identify and help homeless students. Currently, other states, such as California, Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Ohio are also engaged in significant efforts to help homeless students. We will continue to monitor and highlight successful initiatives aimed at eliminating homeless for children across the United States.