Key Data On Students Experiencing Homelessness and Enrolled in Public Schools

Every year, states submit data on the demographics and academic performance of students experiencing homelessness to the U.S. Department of Education. The latest report summarizes that data and examines current trends in the education of these students.

The number of homeless students enrolled in public school districts and reported by state education agencies during school year 2017-18 was 1,508,265. This number does not reflect the totality of children and youth experiencing homelessness, as it only contains those students who are enrolled in public school districts. It doesn’t include school-aged children who experience homelessness during the summer only, those who dropped out of school, or young children who aren’t enrolled in preschool programs.alone backpack

Key Findings of The Report

  • The number of identified enrolled students reported as experiencing homelessness at some point during the last three school years increased 15 percent, from 1,307,656 students in 2015-16 to 1,508,265 students in 2017-18 school years.
  • Sixteen states experienced growth in their homeless student populations of 10 percent or more during the 3 year period covered in the report. Only 5 states saw equally large decreases during the same period.
  • The number of school districts that received sub-grants under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act saw little change; 4,387 school districts, just under 1/4 of all districts n the country, received either an award as a single school district or as part of a regional consortium during 2017-18 school year.
  • Funding for the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program increased by about 12 million between 2015-2017.
  • States provided an average per pupil amount of $76.50 in McKinney-Vento funding to school districts for additional supports needed by homeless students in 2017-18.
  • Over a three year period, the number of students in un-sheltered situations at the time they were first identified increased by 137 percent. Students living in hotels/motels increased by 24 percent, while students in doubled-up situations increased by 13 percent. The number of students in shelters decreased by 2 percent.
  • Unaccompanied youth make up 9 percent of the homeless student population.
  • In school year 2015-16 and 2017-18, English language learners increased by 30 percent.
  • Approximately 14 percent of all students have an identified disability. 18 percent of homeless students have an identified disability.
  • During 2017-18, approximately 29 percent of students experiencing homelessness achieved academic proficiency in reading[language arts]. That same year, 24 percent of students achieved math proficiency, while 26 percent achieved proficiency in science.

Data on academic achievement measures cannot be compared across years when states change academic standards and related assessments.  The duration, cause and conditions of homelessness aren’t controlled for and could impact both student demographics and academic outcomes.

Also, note that these numbers reflect only the reported students who are experiencing homelessness. It is safe to assume that not all such students report their housing circumstances and status to schools. Reason most likely is the fear of stigma.

The term “homeless children and youths”
(A) means individuals who lack a fixed, regular,
and adequate nighttime residence…and
(B) includes—
(i) children and youths who are sharing the
housing of other persons due to loss of housing,
economic hardship, or a similar reason; are living in
motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations; are living in emergency or transitional shelters; are abandoned in hospitals; or are awaiting foster care placement;
(ii) children and youths who have a primary
nighttime residence that is a public or private place
not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular
sleeping accommodation for human beings…
(iii) children and youths who are living in cars,
parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings,
substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings; and
(iv) migratory children (as such term is defined
in section 6399 of title 20) who qualify as homeless
for the purposes of this part because the children are living in circumstances described in clauses (i) through(iii).
McKinney-Vento Act section 725(2)

Use caution when reading the report’s findings, as the data is limited. More children and youth experience homelessness in the U.S. than could be reflected in the data.

The report’s findings, do not address any factors leading to homelessness experienced by students, the educational outcomes they achieved or complex variables that impact implementation of programs under McKinney-Vento Act. Use this report to answer critical questions about the programs and to identify any needed technical assistance and policy updates.

Characteristics of Homeless Students

Available data show there was an increase of 15 percent in the homeless student population over the
three-year period covered in this report.8 The rates of increases varied. The increase in students
identified as experiencing homelessness in kindergarten through third grade was below the national
trend. For students identified in first grade the increase was 5 percent while the increase for students
identified in second grade was 7 percent. The greatest increases were for students at the upper end
of the grade range. Students identified in grades five, six, eleven, and twelve all increased by 20-23

Several states experienced large increases in the number of students experiencing homelessness.
Texas’ homeless student population doubled over the three-year period. Puerto Rico’s homeless
student population increased by 68 percent and Rhode Island’s homeless student population
increased by 45 percent. Connecticut, Florida, Montana, and Pennsylvania all had homeless student
populations that increased more than 30 percent while New Jersey’s homeless student population
increased by 27 percent.

Pursuant to the McKinney-Vento Act, to be considered homeless, an individual must lack a “fixed,
regular, and adequate” nighttime residence (McKinney-Vento Act section 725(2)). A student’s primary
nighttime residence is determined at the time of the initial identification of a child or youth
experiencing homelessness and is divided into four categories for data collection purposes: sheltered,
unsheltered, hotels or motels, and doubled-up. The shelters category includes all types of homeless
shelters and transitional living programs, as well as students awaiting foster care placement.

Unsheltered students include those living in cars, abandoned buildings, places not meant for humans
to live, and substandard housing. Students living in hotels and motels are included when they lack
alternative, adequate accommodations. Students who are doubled-up are those who are sharing
housing with others due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason.

Four Subgroups of Homeless Students:

• Students with disabilities as defined by the Individuals   with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004),
• Students who are migratory,
• Students who are English learners (previously referred to as students with limited English proficiency), and
• Students who are unaccompanied youth.

boy in gray jacket reading book
Photo by Mau00ebl BALLAND on

As these categories describe non-exclusive student attributes, it is possible for a single student to
belong to, and therefore be represented in, more than one category. In other words, a homeless student could theoretically be an English learner, be migratory, have a disability, and be unaccompanied. Alternatively, a homeless student may not belong to any of the categories.

Two subgroups of homeless students matched the rate of growth for the overall homeless student population. Homeless students who have disabilities or who are unaccompanied grew at rates of 16 percent, which is relatively consistent with the overall rate of growth in the number of all homeless students. The change in the English learner subgroup was the most pronounced, with an increase of 59,773 students or 30 percent over the three-year period.

The smallest subgroup of students experiencing homelessness are migratory students (as defined
under the Migrant Education program), with only 16,054 homeless, migratory students identified during 2017-18.

Homeless students who are English learners make up the second largest subgroup of enrolled students. The definition of an English learner is included in section 8101(20) of the ESEA. While English learners make up 17 percent of the homeless student population, they make up only 10 percent of the total student population.

Children with disabilities, as defined by IDEA, comprise the largest subgroup of homeless students enrolled in public schools. The percentage of homeless students with an identified disability under IDEA has now reached 18 percent and the average rate of disabilities among homeless students for states was 21 percent.

To view the entire summary of this latest report, with diagrams detailing the status of children and youth experiencing homelessness, enrolled in U.S. public schools, follow this link:


The ways you interpret the data depends on your focus for creating sustainable solutions for ensuring every child’s access to a quality public education experience. Where will you place your focus? At every level of society, together, we can all be parts of the solution-for families, children and youth learners in school, educators, legislators and society.





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