That’s the number of homeless students counted by the U.S. Education Department at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. (The report can be found on the Resources page of this blog). The parents of these children do EVERYTHING in their power to keep the kids in school… despite the fact that they are struggling to stay housed and safe. Between 2009 (20,780 enrolled) and 2011 (26,048 enrolled) Washington State has had a 25% increase in the numbers of homeless kids in schools. For those who need cold-hard data, you’d think this would do the trick. (It’s important to note that advocates know that this is an undercount… hundreds of thousands of kids are not captured in the data).

As I write this, it feels like I’m stating the obvious, “the numbers of homeless families has grown due to the economic crisis”. We all know that the most poor and vulnerable among us suffer the most when things get tough. It’s our job as citizens to make sure the right policy is in place to keep ALL kids safe and healthy. It’s hard to find someone who disagrees with that goal – but the combative political environment coupled with scarce resources make it tough to pass good policy.

There are two active policy decisions being considered the federal level that will directly impact the future of these One. Million. Kids. The McKinney-Vento Act of 1986 protects children who “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence”, ensuring transportation to and from the last school they attended before becoming homeless. It also requires schools to register children without normally required documents like proof of residence. The new version of the law is caught up in the partisan debate around the No Child Left Behind act.

H.R. 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011, would amend the McKinney-Vento definition to include children and youth who are living in unstable situations such as “couch surfing”. Unfortunately, the bill sits in committee, and is unlikely to be passed since only 4% of all House bills originating from 2009-2010 were enacted. Yup.

Someone needs to speak up for these kids and families… I’m in because healthy, housed kids grow up to contribute to our society. And because I know it’s the RIGHT thing do do. Simple. So we keep advocating for these policies… and remembering those One. Million. Kids.