Students wondering where theyre going to sleep at night may have trouble paying attention in class.
In Miami-Dade County, the number of kids without a home is in the thousands and growing.
The county school district counted more than 4,406 students who were homeless in the 2010-11 academic year. In Florida during the past five years, homelessness among public school students ages 5 to 17 jumped 84 percent.
During the 2010-11 school year, the most recent year for which statewide data is available, 56,680 students were reported homeless.
That instability can affect kids grades and their emotions in class.
Eleven-year-old David Thomas and his eight siblings used to be included in those statistics.
We had to go from school to school because my mama was on drugs and I did not like that because she was a good mom and I loved her, David said.
Minnie Brown, 49, is a single mother in Miami with nine children. She always seems to be smiling, even when shes crying.
I grew up in the projects, around a lot of drugs and alcohol, and thats why I thought thats the way life was, Brown said.
After being molested by a relative and witnessing the murder of her boyfriend, Brown turned to drugs to numb her pain. But in the process, her children were taken away and she could no longer afford her home.
Her children say they never saw their mother getting high. But they were with her in court, when she had to admit to using marijuana and cocaine.
Today the family lives in a three-bedroom apartment with help from the nonprofit Better Way of Miami.
Brown has been clean for almost five years, and the children have finally been able to be in one school for more than a year. Jerika Thomas is the oldest in the house. She just turned 18 and attends Miami Job Corps. She used to hate school.
When we were homeless, you cant focus normally because youre worried about, what is my momma doing? she said. Are we going to be able to stay with them still? Are they gonna put us out? Are we going to a new school again? When I first stepped into school, I wanted to go home.
But Jerika didnt know where home was. Every few weeks, they moved to a different hotel or stayed with a different family friend. They were never at one school long enough to make friends.
When she wasnt at school, she was responsible for taking care of her younger siblings.
I had so much stress on me, sometimes Id sit in class and I cried, she said. And my teacher would be like Whats wrong? And I dont talk, so Im like Nothing. It was really messing with my head.
Like her siblings, Jerika was failing her classes because she couldnt concentrate.
Teachers may not know students are homeless, because like Jerika, theyre embarrassed.
Miami-Dade County public schools counted 4,406 students who were homeless in the 2010-11 school year. Broward County has 1,964 students identified as homeless down from 2010-11, with 2,115.
David Raymond, executive director of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, said the school district maintains data on homeless children, using a different definition of homelessness to include children living in households with more than one family.
In January 2012, the countys total homeless population was 3,954, a 5 percent increase from last year. He says there were 868 homeless people on the streets of Miami-Dade County but none in families and none were children under age 18. There were 3,086 people living in emergency and transitional housing, about half of them families with children.