LOCALIZE IT: Federal data shows student homelessness dropped during pandemic, but that’s not reality




Federal data on homeless students, based on a count of children identified by schools nationwide, found the number fell 21% from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2020-2021 school year, during the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a decrease of more than 288,000 students, but it’s unlikely all of those kids suddenly got housing. Instead, the number likely reflects kids who stopped going to school or whose lack of housing was unknown to school officials.

Some experts attribute the drop to the increased difficulty in identifying homeless children during the pandemic, when many schools failed to keep track of soaring numbers of kids with unstable housing. Not being identified as homeless meant students lost out on eligibility for crucial support such as transportation, free uniforms and laundry services and other help.

Here are some tips for covering student homelessness.



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The U.S. Department of Education defines homeless children and youth as people who “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” The definition includes children who are living with others due to loss of regular housing or economic hardship, in a temporarily shelter, awaiting foster care placement, sleeping in cars or public spaces or are migratory. (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a more limited definition and therefore its dataset is not directly comparable.)

The ranking below is based on U.S. Department of Education data from 2020-2021, the first full school year after the pandemic. The percentages are based on the state’s total enrollment numbers and the number of enrolled students identified as homeless.

The states are listed along with their percentage of homeless students, and where to find state level data.


DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, 5.6%, DC State Board of Education

NEW YORK, 4.8%, New York Department of Education

CALIFORNIA, 3.8%, California Department of Education

MISSOURI, 3.7%, Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education

WEST VIRGINA, 3.7%, West Virginia Department of Education

OREGON, 3.3%, Oregon Department of Education

MONTANA, 3.2%, Montana Department of Education

OKLAHOMA, 3.2%, Oklahoma Department of Education

NEVADA, 3.1%, Nevada Department of Education

WASHINGTON, 3%, Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

KENTUCKY, 2.8%, Kentucky Department of Education

NEW MEXICO, 2.6%, New Mexico Public Education Department

ARKANSAS, 2.4%, Arkansas Department of Education

IDAHO, 2.4%, Idaho Department of Education

FLORIDA, 2.3%, Florida Department of Education

MASSACHUSETTS, 2.2%, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

ALASKA, 2%, Alaska Department of Education & Early Development

ILLINOIS, 2%, Illinois State Board of Education

DELAWARE, 1.9%, Delaware Department of Education

MICHIGAN, 1.9%, Michigan Department of Education

GEORGIA, 1.8%, Georgia Department of Education

HAWAII, 1.8%, Hawaii Department of Education

MISSISSIPPI, 1.8%, Mississippi Department of Education

NEW HAMPSHIRE, 1.8%, New Hampshire Department of Education

WYOMING, 1.8%, Wyoming Department of Education

COLORADO, 1.7%, Colorado Department of Education

LOUISIANA, 1.7%, Louisiana Department of Education

TEXAS, 1.7%, Texas Education Agency

PENNSYLVANIA, 1.6%, Pennsylvania Department of Education

SOUTH CAROLINA, 1.6%, South Carolina Department of Education

WISCONSON, 1.6%, Wisconsin Department of Education

INDIANA, 1.5%, Indiana Department of Education

NORTH CAROLINA, 1.5%, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

NORTH DAKOTA, 1.5%, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction

OHIO, 1.5%, Ohio Department of Education

TENNESSEE, 1.5%, Tennessee Department of Education

UTAH, 1.5%, Utah State Board of Education

ALABAMA, 1.3%, Alabama State Department of Education

ARIZONA, 1.3%, Arizona Department of Education

MARYLAND, 1.3%, Maryland State Department of Education

IOWA, 1.2%, Iowa Department of Education

KANSAS, 1.2%, Kansas Department of Education

MAINE, 1.2%, Maine Department of Education

MINNESOTA, 1.2%, Minnesota Department of Education

VERMONT, 1.2%, Vermont Agency of Education

SOUTH DAKOTA, 1.1%, South Dakota Department of Education

VIRGINIA, 1.1%, Virginia Department of Education

PUERTO RICO, 0.9%, Puerto Rico Department of Education

NEBRASKA, 0.8%, Nebraska Department of Education

NEW JERSEY, 0.8%, New Jersey Department of Education

RHODE ISLAND, 0.8%, Rhode Island Department of Education

CONNECTICUT, 0.7%, Connecticut State Department Of Education



— During the pandemic, how did your local school system address the needs of students whose families experienced homelessness? How have their counts of homeless students changed since the first year of the pandemic when many kids were learning online?

— What efforts has your school made to boost the academic recovery of kids who’ve experienced housing instability? Is there any effort to make up for help and services they might have missed out on if they were not identified as homeless during the throes of the pandemic?

— How does poverty and housing instability affect the education of kids in your local schools? Shelters in your area and advocates for homeless families can be helpful in connecting you with families who might be willing to share how their children’s schooling has been affected by the pandemic.



Cover Photo: Food pantry and essentials at Frye Elementary School in Chandler, Arizona to help family who experience homeless Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)


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