Washington has one of the highest homeless student populations in the country. Despite this, schools received an average of only $29 of federal funding per homeless student in the 2018-19 school year, the lowest in the country. These funds are essential to pay for transportation, books and any other needs students are unable to afford.
In addition, Washington’s graduation rate for homeless students was significantly low, reaching only 64% compared to 87% for students overall. The McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 requires federal funding to be allocated for school districts to support students who are homeless. However, this system is flawed since the amount of funding each state receives isn’t adjusted based on how many homeless students there are.
Even though homeless rates vary heavily across the nation, each state receives an average of $60 per homeless student, twice the amount that Washington gets. Vermont, which has only 1,000 homeless students, received $211 per student. Washington state’s efforts to identify more homeless students and include them in the statewide count have not resulted in more federal funding, which only distributes the allocated funds further. This disincentivizes states from identifying homeless students who need help.
Advocates have been trying to change this, pushing for an increase in federal funding for homeless students. Fortunately, incremental progress is being made. Just last year, Congress’ budget passed, increasing funding for homeless students in Washington by 13%.