A Dec. 27 editorial calling for new initiatives in educating homeless kids could not have come at a better time. At least 500,000 children in America have no permanent place to call home. As many as 100,000 of these children are unable to attend school regularly. Without prompt attention these children face a lifetime of dysfunction and hopelessness.

I am heartened that many school districts have begun to address the plight of homeless kids. In Costa Mesa, Calif., for example, school officials are setting up mobile units in areas where homeless families congregate so that children can be evaluated, tutored and offered a quiet place to do their homework. In Bismarck, N.D., where there is no public bus system, school officials are offering cab fares so that kids in shelters can continue to attend schools in their former neighborhoods. In my own congressional district in Rochester, N.Y., a special placement officer matches homeless kids with schools where they are most likely to succeed. These educators have come to realize that for many homeless children school represents the only source of hope and continuity in an otherwise tumultuous existence.

These initiatives can only go so far. More money from the federal level is needed to guarantee that homeless children can attend school and succeed once they get there. This year the federal government will spend $7 million on such programs -- a small amount, but a beginning. At stake is nothing less than our economic future. Unless we invest in these children now, we face spending billions in the decades ahead coping with a new generation of homeless adults unable to provide for themselves. As we look toward a new year, we need to re-order our national priorities. Saving our children should be at the top of the list.

LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER U.S. Representative (D-N.Y.) Washington