PORTLAND, Oregon — The number of Oregon students who were homeless during the past school year has fallen, though part of the drop is because of a change in reporting methodology.
The state Education Department said Thursday that 18,165 students were homeless at some point during the 2012-13 academic year, an 11 percent decline from a year earlier.
State education officials said a change in federal reporting requirements has allowed them to avoid duplicates in their counts. Before the change, the same student could be recorded as homeless in one school district and then a second time when he or she moved to a different district.
The new requirements also allowed the state to track how homeless students compared academically to their peers. Only 39 percent of homeless students met state expectations in math, for example, compared with 63 percent of all students. Children in poverty, but with a stable housing situation, were at 50 percent. Similar trends appear in reading and science.
"These results paint a very clear picture about the effect of housing insecurity on student learning," said Rob Saxton, deputy superintendent of Oregon schools. "We need to come together as communities and as a state to meet our students' fundamental needs so that they can stop worrying about the basics and get back to being kids."
The Beaverton School District, Oregon's third-largest district in 2012-13, had the most homeless students with 1,373. The state's largest district, Portland, had the second-highest total. The much smaller Medford district finished third, with 993 students, but that's an improvement from the more than 1,200 recorded as homeless in 2011-12.
The tiny Butte Falls School District in southern Oregon had the highest percentage of homeless students, followed by the Culver School District.
The homeless classification doesn't necessarily mean the child is sleeping in a shelter or on the streets. The tag also applies to students who lack a fixed and regular nighttime residence, such as those who live in motels or bounce between the homes of friends and relatives.
Federal rules require school districts to hire a liaison to help these students get to school and have the supplies needed to learn. The districts, of course, can't force a child to study or do homework.
"If it's a youth living on their own, they need to find within themselves the inspiration to do that, and usually they do," said Lisa Mentesana, the Beaverton district's homeless liaison. "Keep in mind that the kids that we're counting are kids that are committed to their education. They are staying in school despite all the hardship they're dealing with."
Mentesana said it can sometimes be more difficult for students in struggling families forced to live together. She provided an example of three families now living in a two-bedroom home in the Beaverton district. "Eleven adults and 11 children," she said. "Imagine trying to study in that kind of environment."