DOE sees big drop in homeless students, but warns figure is misleading

DOE sees big drop in homeless students, but warns figure is misleading

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This semester, McKinley High School special education history teacher Laverne Moore has 80 students. Eight of them are homeless.

"Homeless students, in my mind, have the biggest barriers to education," said Moore, whose been teaching for 47 years. "They need clothes, they need toiletries, they need school supplies. They need a very caring teacher."

That individualized support is key to the state Education Department's efforts to help homeless kids overcome educational barriers, which is why the state's newest homeless student figures are so troubling.

As of October, 2,908 Hawaii public school students were identified as homeless by their parents. That's compared to 3,576 in January.

Officials say while they're hopeful homelessness is easing, they suspect the decline is more likely due to parents not reporting their child's homelessness. And that means schools can't offer those homeless students the specialized services they need, from extra tutoring to transportation to and from school.

"By the school not knowing who the homeless child is, the educators in the school cannot give them the extra support they need," Moore said.

One explanation for the drop is that it's still early in the school year and some families haven't gotten around to filling out the paper work. Another has to do with a new program that offers free breakfasts and lunches to all students at a school, rather than just those students who sign up based on income.

Some 30 Hawaii schools are now participating in the program, from seven last school year.

"Because a lot of schools are giving free meals that could be another reason why parents feel they don't have to declare their child homeless. That's (the free meals) the biggest benefit," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, Department of Education spokeswoman.

But by going undeclared, educators say homeless students are missing out on other vital supports.

"We offer morning tutoring, after school tutoring. We also offer from the teachers side clothing, food, school supplies. We truly try to help the child who is homeless because we feel so fortunate that they chose to come to school," Moore said.

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