Homeless Students in Kindergarten–Grade 12

Over 1.35 million students nationwide were identified as experiencing homelessness during the 2016–17 school year (SY), a 4% increase since SY 2013–14 and a 99% increase from SY 2006–07. Identifying and engaging with homeless students at school is important not only because these students may be in need of important resources such as transportation and school supplies, but because housing instability directly impacts their education.

Students who have experienced homelessness are more likely to be chronically absent, have repeated mid-year transfers between schools, perform more poorly on standardized tests than their housed peers, and are less likely to graduate. These students are also at heightened risk of physical and mental health issues such as asthma or depression. By identifying them, schools can connect these students with medical resources they may need. Identification is the necessary first step that allows homeless students to connect with the necessary supports to not only complete their education but thrive in their learning and pursue future goals.

Identification can be challenging and can depend on having the time and resources to train staff to actively and properly engage with students they believe may be experiencing housing instability or homelessness. This ranking shows how well states identify and enroll homeless children in grades K–12 by measuring the ratio of homeless students enrolled to low-income children (children in families earning less than the federal poverty level) in those grades. By comparing the number of homeless and low-income students, it is possible to control for varying levels of poverty between states. States with higher ratios may be more likely to have robust and inclusive identification practices, including coordination between key staff such as the homeless liaison or social workers at local shelters and schools.

Federal funding for improving local identification practices comes from the Department of Education’s McKinney-Vento program, reauthorized in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

States distribute these funds to individual districts based on a subgrant process. School districts then use these subgrants to train homeless liaisons and school staff to identify homeless students and provide the support necessary for a proper education. Some of these supports include transportation to and from the student’s school of origin, tutoring, and school supplies.

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.

New York was ranked first in 2017 in identifying and enrolling homeless students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, with 29% of low-income students identified as homeless, twice as high as the national average (14%). Montana had the largest increase in its ratio of homeless to low-income students in K–12, increasing from 9% identified in 2014 to 18% in 2017. In nine states, over one in five low-income K–12 students were identified as experiencing housing instability. Rhode Island and New Jersey identified 5% of low-income students as homeless, the lowest rate of any state.