Across the country, states are reporting more homeless school students. According to new data by the Department of Education, more than 1.1 million students in the United States in grades K–12 were homeless in the 2011–12 school year—a record high. Of the 50 states, the 10 in this gallery have the fastest-growing homeless student populations, and chances are they aren't the places you'd expect.
Experts say that the numbers may even be higher than what you’ll see here, because irregular class attendance and changing addresses mean homeless kids are difficult to track. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth says that two trends are responsible for these big numbers: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in severe poverty in the U.S.
Many schools already have homeless education coordinators, and more districts are hiring them. These educators help students access what many of us consider life basics—a pair of shoes, a shower, and even a prepaid phone for safety. There are more than 15,000 of these liaisons in schools in the United States. Under the 1987 McKinney-Vento Act all schools are required to provide homeless services, but many don’t have the money to fill the position and haven’t secured a federal grant to help.
Just 3,000 of the country's 15,000 school districts are taking advantage of about $65 million in relevant government subgrants. Some districts are instead partnering with community-based organizations to deal with their homeless issues. Still others are training administrators, teachers, counselors, and bus drivers on how to best serve homeless kids and meet their needs.
Many educators and officials are looking for further solutions. Some cities are connecting with local organizations to create after-hours learning centers with tutors and computers. Some schools are relaxing procedures for homeless kids. For example, a homeless child may not want to hang up his or her coat but instead wear it through class, because it’s the only one he or she owns.
It serves everyone when homeless students prevail. If they don’t, the cycle of poverty continues. Read on to find out which states have the fastest-growing populations of homeless students and what they're doing about it.
This article was written as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.