For homeless students, school problems compound

The growing problem of homelessness is affecting education nationally, statewide and here in Benton and Franklin counties.

Homelessness is not just the fellow on a downtown street asking for a handout.

It's also a family problem, a sometimes short-term experience with long-term repercussions.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has released figures showing that homelessness among students in Washington state has been growing for the past five years, at least.

Refinement in definitions and counting techniques make the relatively short term of year-to-year comparisons necessary.

In school years, the number of homeless students statewide breaks out like this:

* 2005-06 -- 13,942

* 2006-07 -- 16,853

* 2007-08 -- 18,670

* 2008-09 -- 20,780

* 2009-10 -- 21,826

According Herald reporter Michelle Dupler's recent article, Kennewick saw an increase from last year of 48 homeless students, from 183 to 231, or a 26 percent increase.

Pasco saw a 33 percent increase, from 245 homeless students in 2008-09 to 326 the following year.

Richland identified 83 homeless students in the 2009-10 school year, up from 77 for the prior year, or a 7 percent increase.

For the 1.04 million students in Washington's public schools, the demands and pressures are already high. Besides standardized testing, budget cuts, personnel and transportation issues, worries range over everything from dress codes to culminating projects.

Add to these the lack of a home or a bed or domestic security, and it's obvious that 21,826 students bear burdens greater than their classmates -- plus all the burdens their classmates share.

Grants, hot meals, even transportation and tutoring help are authorized for homeless students.

But authorization isn't funding and money is always limited.

The economy plays a role in all this. Since the Tri-Cities seem to be coming through the recession better than most places, we may have a more optimistic view of the situation.

But for the 21,826, optimism may be a luxury they can't afford.