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Bipartisan legislation to support homeless students passes Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Frockt

Sen. David Frockt - Reporter file photo
Sen. David Frockt
— image credit: Reporter file photo

The state Legislature took a historic step in addressing the rapidly growing problem of student homelessness on March 7 through passage of SB 6074 - the Homeless Children Education Act. The act is the first bill ever passed by the Legislature specifically targeted at aiding homeless students succeed in school.

The bill will improve the tracking and reporting of data on the educational outcomes of homeless students, as well as improve training tools available to teachers that will enable them to connect homeless students with existing resources that will help them graduate.

The bill passed the House on a 90-6 vote. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, who represents Kenmore, and Rep. Kevin Parker of Spokane.

A team of six students with the University of Washington School of Law Children and Youth Legislative Advocacy Clinic brought the problem to the attention of the Legislature. Frockt and Parker worked in collaboration with the students, Columbia Legal Services and numerous stakeholder groups to develop the first step in addressing this problem.

"As a former teacher, I know that these are the most vulnerable students in the classroom and we applaud the legislature for taking this groundbreaking step," said clinic member Liz Allen.

The new law comes as the economy has begun to recover, yet it was recently announced that for the sixth year in a row, the number of homeless students in Washington state has increased. Numbers released recently by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show that 30,609 students were counted as homeless this year. The number represents an 11.8 percent increase from 2011-12 and a 47.3 percent increase from 2007-08.

“Our growing population of homeless students is a crisis,” said Parker. “With improved data analysis, availability of staff trainings, and distribution of information on the services available to homeless students, we will be able to reach more of these kids and help put them on the path to academic success. No child deserves to be homeless, and this bill is a key first step towards further action that we can take.”

Housing instability causes increased mobility, which in many cases results in students transferring between schools more than once per year. Each time they change schools, research indicates that they lose between 4-6 months of academic progress. This inevitably impacts a homeless student's ability to excel academically. Only 37 percent of Washington’s identified homeless students are proficient in math, versus 64 percent of their housed counterparts, according to an analysis of data from the OSPI.

“These numbers are a wake-up call for our state,” said Frockt. “We know that hungry and homeless kids face enormous challenges to succeed in school. If we’re going to close the opportunity gap and give every student a chance to succeed, we need to take this issue on and help these kids get back on track.”

The bill will require OSPI to collect information on the educational outcomes of homeless students and report to the Legislature on those outcomes. This data will better inform the Legislature as to the issues facing homeless students while helping lawmakers make better decisions as they take additional steps to address youth homelessness.

Additionally, OSPI would develop or acquire a short video providing best practices for identifying and supporting homeless students, while explaining how these activities are critical to student success. School districts would encourage staff review of the video annually and would provide educators additional information about services and support for homeless students. This information would help educators better identify, support and educate homeless students.

Having already passed the Senate on a 48-0 vote, the bill now goes to Gov. Inslee’s desk for his signature.

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