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Homeless kids need school help

Profile image for Houston Chronicle Editorial
Houston Chronicle Editorial

The revered football coach doubling as a history teacher is something of a Texas cliche. A school employee filling 25 different positions, on the other hand, is ridiculous.

But that's how many roles one school district's homeless liaison had to serve, according to a new study by Texas Appleseed and Texas Network of Youth Services. In addition to 24 other duties, she was charged with giving homeless youth the extra support they need to stay in school.

If Texas is going to take seriously our societal responsibility for homeless youth, then the role of homeless liaison needs to be more than a title.

Currently, the state of Texas doesn't appropriate funds specifically for educating homeless children and youth, according to the study. As a consequence, Texas homeless liaisons don't have the resources needed to help students navigate the difficulties of their chaotic lives.

The Texas commission -- designed to help overhaul the state's complicated school finance system -- should recommend that districts be entitled to a higher level of funding for homeless students, similar to how special education students are treated.

The Legislature needs to be ready to remedy this oversight during the next session in Austin.

Increased focus on homeless youth in the classroom would have positive effects throughout society.

For decades, the state of Texas has waged a largely ineffective crusade against sex trafficking. An estimated 25 percent of youth experiencing homelessness are trafficked, according to a University of Texas study. School districts could play an invaluable role in preventing trafficking if they were given the necessary resources.

Texas has also adopted a goal that at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 should earn a certificate or degree by 2030. Homeless students are at risk of dropping out due to concentration and attendance issues. For high-risk students to meet the so-called 60x30 goal, they need the attention of caring educators.

And for Houstonians frustrated with homeless camps sprouting up under overpasses, the best solution would be keeping kids off the streets before they become adults.

Texas already had about 10 percent of the country's homeless youth and children, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. That number is growing after Hurricane Harvey

"Our kids that are separated from their families -- living with one friend a week, they need so much," one homeless liaison interviewed in the study said.

The Legislature must step up to staff our schools with qualified candidates focused on leading students back into normalcy in a topsy-turvy world.