The number of students counted as homeless by school districts in Washington continued to rise last year, according to data from state education officials.
More than 27,000 students were listed as homeless under federal guidelines in the 2011-12 school year, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That’s an increase of just more than 5 percent from the previous year, and up nearly 47 percent from the beginning of the recession in the 2007-08 school year, according to OSPI.
The most recent data includes 1,247 students in the Tacoma School District – second only to Seattle, which reported 1,872.
Other numbers from Pierce County’s large school districts include 366 in the Spanaway-based Bethel district, 261 in Lakewood’s Clover Park district and 338 in Puyallup schools.
Some of Pierce County’s smaller school districts reported homeless kids, too: 27 in the Dieringer district at Lake Tapps, 117 in Fife, 196 in Sumner and two in rural Carbonado.
Districts said parental job losses, illnesses and house foreclosures played a role in student homelessness. They also say better reporting and more awareness on the part of the public have led to more accurate numbers, according to OSPI.
Students don’t have to live under a bridge to qualify as homeless under federal law. It defines a student as homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence. That includes those who live in shelters, motels and those who share housing with other families.
Educators say substandard or unstable living conditions puts pressure on students academically. They have more health problems and graduate at a lower rate.
The federal law allows students to remain in the school they attended before becoming homeless, with transportation to and from school provided.