Legislature seeks to track dropout rate among homeless students

Staff writerJanuary 27, 2014 

More than 27,000 students in Washington are homeless, and without the proper support, many fall behind and fail to graduate high school.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 27,390 students were homeless during the 2011-12 school year, and that number continues to rise.

“It is far too often that these children are not properly identified and allowed to slip through the cracks,” said Miles Nowlin, the family support coordinator within the Shelton School District.

The federal McKinney-Vento Act requires school districts across the country to identify homeless students within their district and provide them with the necessary support to complete their schooling. In Washington, the information is collected, but the dropout rates of homeless students are not tracked or reported.

Legislation proposed by Republican Rep. Kevin Parker of Spokane would require OPSI to compile and record the dropout number among homeless students.

“[The legislation] synthesizes and categorizes it,” Parker said.

In addition, House Bill 2373 would require OPSI to create a video to help identify homeless students while explaining what can be done to support them as they complete their education. The legislation requires school districts to advise all staff members to watch the video yearly. In addition, the bill would require OPSI to help school districts to choose and train district-designated homeless student liaisons.

Yearly, school districts would be required to provide families with brochures outlining the education rights of homeless students.

The House Education Committee heard public testimony Monday for the proposal. Liz Allen, a University of Washington child and youth legislative advocate, testified in front of the committee in support of the bill. Allen, a former teacher, said she knows first hand the struggle homeless students face.

The legislation is a “simple and reasonable step,” Allen said. “It provides tools for training that ensures homeless students know their rights.”

Nowlin said half of homeless students are under the age of 21. He told the committee that supporting school stability and providing access to basic needs and housing programs are essential to aiding a large, and growing, population. Parker said implementing the legislation and tracking the rate of homeless students that drop out of school would illuminate trends and could help better serve students.

We really need to get our “arms around this and really do well and maximize efforts as a state,” Parker said.

The proposal is currently waiting to be scheduled for an executive session, where it would then be decided if it would move to the House floor for a vote.

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