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State lawmaker seeks info to help address rise in homeless students

To get a better grasp on the number of homeless students in Massachusetts, one lawmaker wants the state education commissioner to conduct an annual review of school districts’ implementation of the McKinney-Vento Act, which is aimed at ensuring that homeless children are enrolled and served in schools.

“There is a surprisingly large population of homeless students in Massachusetts,” Representative Denise Provost told lawmakers on the Education Committee Thursday.

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Provost, a Somerville Democrat, said some students are counted and get the services they need, but some do not. The Department of Education estimates there are 12,000 to 13,000 homeless students statewide, with a caveat that the number might be larger because older students hide their status, Provost said.

The number of homeless families in Massachusetts seeking shelter in hotels and motels surged over the summer, jumping from 1,230 in April to 1,710 in August.

Earlier this month, the number hit a record high of 2,038, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Nationally, public schools are reporting a record number of homeless youth, five advocacy groups reported Thursday, citing US Department of Education data.

The groups, including First Focus, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, reported 1,168,354 homeless students in US preschools and K-12 schools in the 2011-2012 school year, a 10 percent increase over 2010-2011.

‘The number of homeless youth and families in need of housing and services has been increasing as . . . supports have decreased.’

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Massachusetts posted a 6 percent increase.

Since the start of the recession, the number of homeless children in public schools has increased 72 percent nationwide, the groups reported.

“Children and youth who are homeless suffer, and this data confirm what the homeless youth field has been seeing on the ground, the number of homeless youth and families in need of housing and services has been increasing as local and state supports have decreased,” Darla Bardine, policy director of the National Network for Youth, said in a statement. “Congress needs to act with urgency in scaling up the housing, care, and support these children and youth need to succeed.”

Under Provost’s bill, the education commissioner would provide the Legislature with an annual report estimating the number of homeless students; an analysis of how homeless students’ academic achievement, graduation, and dropout rates compare to other students; and a look at school districts’ compliance with the McKinney-Vento law.

Provost said the report would help lawmakers create policies to address the problem.

“It is shocking to me that we would even have this many homeless students,” Provost said. “But since we do, I am hoping we can dig in a little deeper into the information.”

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