Our policymakers don’t talk about it very much, but thousands of children in Texas public schools are homeless, presenting their own special problems for educators. According to new federal data, there were more than 111,000 of them during the 2013-14 school year.
Nationally, as reported by the Washington Post, the number of homeless children in public schools totaled 1.36 million that year. Texas came in third behind California and New York. The national amount has doubled since before the recent recession.
“Teachers often find themselves working not only to help children learn but also to clothe them, keem them clean and counsel them through problems – including stress and trauma – that interfere with classroom progress,” the Post reported.
The newspaper also noted that homeless children are “more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, are more likely to miss school and change schools, are more likely to drop out of school than other children and score lower on standardized tests.”
Homelessness isn’t limited to urban school districts. Suburban and rural districts also struggle with the problem, partly because the gentrification of cities has forced many low-income families to abandon central city neighborhoods in hopes of finding affordable housing elsewhere. And, often, they don’t find it.
I may have missed it, but I don’t recall any singificant debate in the Legislature when it was in session earlier this year about the plight of homeless students. To their credit, some lawmakers tried to convince the powers-that-be in Austin to expand Medicaid, at least, so millions of low-income Texans, including the homeless, could get health care.
But the powers-that-be shut the door on that idea, keeping Texas’ social safety net extremely thin – and letting educators continue to deal with the consequences.