Homeless kids must be counted

They sleep in cars, campgrounds, parks and homeless shelters. Maybe they're fortunate enough to land in a home of a generous friend or relative.

Then they’re expected to get up every weekday and go to school.

Nearly 22,000 homeless, school-aged children live in Washington state, which represents a disturbing, 56.5 percent increase since 2006 and a 5 percent increase since last year, according to numbers collected by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The numbers – 1.3 million homeless children nationwide – serve as a grim reminder of the growing homelessness problem in this country, this state and this community.

Several factors play into the rising numbers statewide. The obvious one is the depressed economy. Another is the fact that many school districts five years ago were underreporting the homeless children in their schools.

It can be a difficult statistic to grasp. Many families aren’t forthcoming with the information because of the stigma attached to homelessness.

But it’s important that school officials and families alike provide accurate information to OSPI.

First of all, the requirement to collect and report homeless numbers is part of the federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act.

One of the goals of the act is to ensure that homeless children are afforded the same access to public education, including public preschool programs, as other children. Homeless children cannot be separated from other children in the schools and they’re supposed to receive transportation to and from school, which can be costly and logistically challenging.

Accurate reporting of homeless children increases the chances of federal funding to support those students. The state receives about $850,000 a year from the federal government to transport, tutor and provide school supplies for the neediest of all school populations.

The money is distributed through a competitive grant program with money going to districts with the greatest need.

It’s incumbent upon everyone involved to keep tabs of homeless children, while, at the same time, working hard to get those children back into safe, healthy living arrangements.