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Washington state ranks high in effectively identifying homeless students

By Paige Cornwell

The Seattle Times

Washington state is doing well at effectively identifying homeless students within its school systems.

That’s according to a new study by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, which ranked Washington as No. 7 out of all states and Washington, D.C. The institute is a nonprofit research organization that examines the impact of poverty and homelessness on students.

Nearly 40,000 Washington students were homeless during the 2015-16 school year, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Advocates, however, believe there are more students who aren’t identified in their schools. Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, states receive federal funding to support district programs that identify and serve homeless students.

The institute used percentages in five criteria for the ranking system. Researchers looked at the percentages of homeless students in Head Start and prekindergarten programs to see how states use federal funds and programs for the youngest students experiencing homelessness. In those two areas, the state ranked No. 14 and No. 13.

For K-12 education, the institute looked at the percentage of students who are identified as homeless and how it compares with the percent of children who are extremely poor, which means their family earns at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2016, that was $12,150 annually for a family of four.

That measure, the institute wrote, is the most effective in highlighting where homeless students might not be identified. Washington ranked No. 7 in that category.

The fourth category looked at the percentage of homeless students who are living in shared or “doubled-up” housing. In Washington, three out of four homeless students were identified as doubled up, according to the state superintendent’s office. Washington ranked eighth.

The institute also looked at the percentage of homeless students who have a disability. Disabled homeless students are less likely to receive services because families often have to move, so the children switch schools, according to the institute. The state had its lowest ranking, at No. 20, for that category.

Oregon, New York and Alaska ranked highest nationally for effectively identifying homeless students. Connecticut, Tennessee and Mississippi were at the bottom.

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