Federal legislation aims to help students who are homeless or living in foster care
In the past, legislative efforts to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education generally overlooked the unique needs of children who are homeless or living in foster care.
But that situation is changing under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which contains a number of provisions that seek to provide greater stability in school for children who come from those backgrounds. The ABA is working to guarantee that regulations being implemented under the act effectively meet the needs of those students.
“With this bill, we re-affirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP code where they live, deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will,” said President Barack Obama when he signed ESSA in December 2015. The act replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in 2007, and Obama said the new law “upholds the core value” of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that “education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right.”
The ABA supports provisions in ESSA that:
• Ensure that students may remain in their schools when they enter foster care or change foster care placements, unless it is not in their best interest.
• Enroll students who are in foster care immediately in a new school when a school change is necessary without the records that typically are required.
• Facilitate the prompt transfer of records when a child in foster care enters a new school.
• Require school districts and child welfare agencies to have reciprocal points of contact for students in foster care, as well as a point of contact at the state level.
• Require local education and child welfare agencies to collaborate on developing and implementing plans for transportation when needed to keep students who are in foster care in their schools of origin.
• Improve the collection of data, particularly regarding high school graduation rates, on the progress of children.
Additional provisions require state and local education agencies to ensure that their plans under the act promote identification, enrollment, attendance and school stability for youths who experience homelessness. They also require local education agencies to reserve a portion of their education funding to support homeless children.
The ABA maintains that the improvements in the law will help to prevent students in foster care and homeless students from needlessly changing schools, keep them from falling further behind in their education with each move, and prevent overburdening the school systems serving both of these groups.
WORKING ON THE DETAILS
The Department of Education is developing final ESSA regulations based on several hundred public comments from more than 200 events and meetings.
In written comments submitted to the Department of Education in May, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman emphasized that “clear and timely information is critical to ensuring effective collaboration among state and local education agencies and state and local child welfare agencies to improve education stability and success for students in foster care.”
Citing the ABA’s emphasis on the importance of transportation services for children in foster care, Susman recommended that the regulations require local educational and child welfare agencies to work together to guarantee transportation for students is not interrupted.
To improve data collection and reporting, the ABA recommends that the definition of “foster care” under ESSA align with the federal child welfare definition and the stability requirements of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which was enacted in 2008 to improve outcomes for children in foster care.
For purposes of reporting student achievement, the ABA supports the designation of students in foster care as a subgroup because of the unique educational needs of those students and the educational barriers that they face. In his comments, Susman pointed out that statistics for reporting high school graduation rates should include students in foster care at the time of graduation and those who lived in foster care at any time while they attended high school. This is so the statistics portray a more accurate picture of the educational experience of students in foster care, he says.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “No Longer Overlooked: Federal legislation puts greater emphasis on meeting the needs of students who are homeless or living in foster care.”
This report is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government. Rhonda McMillion is the editor of ABA Washington Letter, a Governmental Affairs Office publication.