The Legislature should pass a bill to help provide homeless students with guidance and housing.
A SHORT distance to school every day. A quiet place to study. Someone to turn to for help for problems both academic and personal.
All of these resources help a student succeed. All of these might be missing for the roughly 32,000 kids in Washington today with no permanent home.
The Legislature should enact ESSHB 1682, a bill intended to provide more homeless students with the same basic resources most of their peers enjoy: guidance and housing.
The Homeless Student Stability Act has strong bipartisan support and awaits further action in the state Senate, but it accomplishes nothing if lawmakers don’t fund it. Supporters are requesting an initial $2 million investment to start up a competitive grant system for high-need districts.
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That’s not a lot considering the state already spends about $18 million per year just to transport homeless children from temporary shelters to their schools in taxis, charter buses and other private transportation. Education is important.
Some kids must travel long distances if their shelter is outside their home district. The federal McKinney-Vento Act ensures these children continue attending the same schools because midyear changes disrupt their learning process.
The current price tag for transportation could be dramatically reduced and yield better outcomes for students if more districts replicated pilot programs being tested in the areas of Highline, Vancouver and Tacoma. Those districts have partnered with private donors and nonprofits to assist a limited number of families with transportation, emergency shelter and housing, including rental assistance.
In 2011, the Tacoma Housing Authority started working with one school to provide multiyear housing vouchers to 50 families. As case workers helped parents gain job skills, their kids’ test scores and attendance improved. Turnover rates improved dramatically from 179 percent in 2006 to 75 percent last year. The program’s supervisor credited these remarkable changes to the fact families were moving less, according to a March 2014 Seattle Times report.
Under McKinney-Vento, Washington receives about $950,000 per year to spread among tens of thousands of homeless students. That’s just not enough. These kids have a constitutional right to obtain a public education. They are at a serious disadvantage if they cannot learn because they are worried about where their families are staying night after night.
The Legislature has a choice: make a small investment now in programs proven to help parents maintain housing and stability for their children, or pay a much higher price later when the scourge of homelessness breaks their spirits and leaves them behind.