February 12, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 7

Feature

Law would require public schools to get better at identifying homeless students

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

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There are an estimated 30,000 homeless students in Washington’s public schools, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Staff at Columbia Legal Services and law students at the University of Washington think that number is short by thousands of students and are pushing for a law in the Washington State Legislature to get a better estimate.

The University of Washington’s Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic has drafted and proposed a law that would train public school teachers to identify homeless youth and require public schools to provide students and families with information on how to access services.

The law also encourages, but does not require, individual schools to send staff members to trainings on how to serve homeless students.

The federal McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to quickly enroll homeless students. If a student moves, the school district is required to provide transportation so they can stay with their same teachers.

Schools and school districts struggle to meet the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act, said Rachel Cullen, a UW law student who is advocating for the bill.

Seattle Public Schools, for example, has an estimated 1,800 homeless students but only two people in its district office to serve them.

“So many school districts have a hard time complying with the McKinney-Vento Act, because they can’t afford it,” Cullen said.

This legislation provides no additional funding but helps train faculty at each school to be more aware of which students might be homeless and need additional help.

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