Homeless Students in Head Start

Enrollment in Head Start is an important measure of a state’s ability to serve homeless students because of the critical role that early education plays in childhood development. In 2017, Head Start programs served over 1 million children nationally, more than 52,000, or 5.2%, of whom were homeless. This enrollment rate is over twice the 2.6% of students in all grades who are identified as homeless. Nevertheless, the identification of over 115,000 homeless students in Kindergarten during the same year suggests that there may still be under-enrollment of young homeless children in early education.

Enrolling homeless children in Head Start poses its own unique set of challenges. For example, homeless parents may not know about the program or whether their children are eligible. Many homeless families also experience frequent and sudden moves, and those who are living doubled up due to loss of housing or who are privately paying to live in motels can be hard to reach and identify.

As a result, homeless students are less likely than their housed peers to attend early education programs prior to Kindergarten, even though they are categorically eligible to enroll in Head Start. This ranking shows how well states provide access to Head Start for homeless children by measuring the percentage of all Head Start enrollees who were homeless. States with a higher share of homeless children in Head Start may be more likely to have developed effective partnerships between state McKinney-Vento and Head Start offices, as well as local shelters, to coordinate outreach and enrollment.

Head Start is a federally-funded preschool program, with over 1,700 agencies nationwide that currently provide services to low-income families.

The program has been shown to provide academic fundamentals to students who may not otherwise have access to early learning, helping prepare these participants for school and improving their educational outcomes in later years.

Hover over a state and click through the years to see how the rankings have changed over time. Click on a state to learn more.

Vermont had the highest proportion of homeless children in its Head Start programs—they made up 14.4% of all Head Start students, more than twice the national average of 5.2%. Seven more states (Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Idaho, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Kansas) had enrollment rates above 10% in 2017. Three of these states (Kansas, Oregon, and New Hampshire) also improved the most since 2014, raising their enrollment rates by three percentage points or more. Mississippi had the lowest enrollment rate for homeless students, with less than one percent of all Head Start enrollees identified as homeless.