Lawmakers pass legislation to better assist homeless students

Staff writerFebruary 14, 2014 

With more than 27,000 homeless students in Washington, lawmakers are taking steps to ensure that more is known about a large, and growing, population.

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, that information is collected, but not broken down at the state and local level.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, would require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to compile and record dropout rates among homeless students in an effort to better understand the issue of homelessness among students. OPSI would be responsible for reporting the information back to the Legislature and developing training for school districts to better understand homeless students, and help improve their educational outcomes.

By analyzing the information collected, “homeless students can reach their full potential,” Parker said.

House Bill 2373 passed off of the House floor Friday morning with a bipartisan 92-4 vote. Senate Bill 6074, a companion bill to the House’s version, passed unanimously off the Senate floor Wednesday.

Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill’s passage Friday.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, a Democrat from Shelton, said supporting homeless students by compiling information will help keep them in school and make sure they receive the right services to help them succeed.

Newly-appointed Rep. Jesse Young, a Republican from Gig Harbor, said the legislation hit close to home. Young said that as a youth, he struggled with homelessness.

“There are certain homeless demographics that we don’t have data for,” Young said. “For us to be able to have this data at our fingertips is paramount.”

Republican Rep. Elizabeth Scott from Monroe opposed the legislation Friday. She said that she was opposed “purely on the data collection” component.

“Until I’m convinced that the parents will be notified” and told who the information will be shared with, I cannot support the bill, Scott said.

Seattle Democrat Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos said that as a state, there is a responsibility to make sure that all children succeed in school.

“We cannot help if we don’t have particular information of what the student needs,” Santos said. “Data drives policy, data drives programs...let us make sure we know what those children need.”

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