The number of homeless students in the United States reached a record high during the 2012-13 school year, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education. The report shows that homeless children enrolled in public preschool and grades K-12 jumped 8 percent from the previous school year to hit 1,258,182.
According to the Education Department, three-quarters of these students live "doubled up" -- that is, with friends or extended family members -- while 16 percent live in shelters. Some 3 percent live without shelter. And about 6 percent are "unaccompanied," meaning they live completely on their own without parents or other family members. A significant number of homeless students have disabilities or have limited English language skills.
Troubling as these numbers are, they likely understate the problem of homelessness among the young, the First
Focus Campaign for Children said in a statement. The nonprofit pointed out that the data did not include children
too young for school or those not enrolled in public schools. “A record number of homeless students means a record
number of our children being exposed to sexual trafficking, abuse, hunger, and denial of their basic needs,” said
Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children. “The new data means that a record number of kids
in our schools and communities are spending restless nights in bed-bug infested motels and falling more behind in
school by the day because they’re too tired and hungry to concentrate."
The impact is profound on public schools, which struggle to try to address the needs of homeless children. Teachers
often find themselves working not only to help children learn but also to clothe them, keep them clean and counsel
them through problems — including stress and trauma — that interfere with classroom progress. Many schools receive
federal funds meant to help connect homeless students with support services. But that federal funding has not kept
pace with the increasing need: In fiscal 2006, the Department of Education distributed $61.8 million for homeless
youth programs. It had fallen slightly to $61.7 million by 2013, then increased slightly to $65 million in 2014