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Homeless students in New York City top 100,000 for fifth year. Experts say the number could be much higher.

A new report shows one in 10 students in New York City public schools were homeless for the 2019-2020 school year, with the majority participating in remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic in shelters or temporary housing. However, advocates warn the number is likely much higher. 

More than 111,000 children enrolled in the city's district or charter schools were identified as homeless this past year, the fifth consecutive year the number has topped the six-figure mark, according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York.

"If these students comprised their own school district, it'd be one of the largest school districts in the entire United States," Randi Levine, the organization's policy director, told CBS News. "The number of students experiencing homelessness in New York City is twice the size of the entire Boston public school system."

It's a 2.2% decline from the year prior, but the closure of schools due to the pandemic means it was much harder for educators and officials to track students' housing situations, according to Levine. It's a trend seen across the country. An estimated 420,000 homeless children across the country have been under-identified so far this school year. 

Experts say homelessness has implications on students' learning ability, reading comprehension and literacy rates, which is now magnified by a lack of access to remote learning resources. New York State Education Department data shows less than 30% of homeless students in grades 3 through 8 passed the state reading and math exams last year, roughly 20% lower than their peers with stable housing. 

The vast majority of students impacted are Black or Latino, comprising 85% of those recorded in the new data. The Bronx currently has the highest rate in the city, where about one in every six students is homeless.

"We are committed to providing our students experiencing homelessness with a high-quality education that delivers critical supports and resources to meet their needs every step of the way," said Sarah Casasnovas, a spokesperson with the city's Department of Education. "These students remain top of mind during this crisis, and we continue to work closely with advocates like AFC and partner agencies to provide caring, supportive environments whether in-person or remote."

The NYC Department of Education has provided iPads with cellular data service to thousands of homeless students to facilitate remote learning, but experts say shelters often lack reliable internet access. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to get WiFi in all of the city's shelters while providing them with tech support and new equipment. However, advocates say help hasn't gone far enough.

"Even before the pandemic, students who were homeless had abysmal educational outcomes," Levine said. "We are very concerned that these outcomes are only growing worse and that is going to take a major effort by the city to make up for the learning loss that has occurred."

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