Foster Youth Education Rights

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is still the most far reaching education act ever passed by Congress. This bill emphasized equal access to education for all and accountability by providing benchmarks for schools to achieve. The goal was to shorten the achievement gap between children by providing equal education opportunities for all. It has been reauthorized over the years including the 2001 version No Child Left Behind which was proposed and signed into law by President George W. Bush.

This year, Senator Lamar Alexander (R. Tennessee) has put forward another bill to reauthorize the act calling it the Every Child Achieves Act. This bi-partisan bill will have a strong effect on foster youth and the education opportunities that are available for them. Often, foster youth have to switch schools when they are placed into foster care. Having to switch schools is hard enough, but many times they are not immediately enrolled in their new schools while the school is waiting for all the necessary paperwork to be checked out and processed. Because the process of removing and placing a foster youth in their new homes happens so quickly, they may not even have all the paperwork that is usually necessary to get enrolled into school.

The Every Child Achieves Act requires states to ensure that foster children are immediately enrolled in school even if they don’t possess records normally required to enroll. Further, they also put the burden on the child’s new school to reach out to the previous schools to get all of the required paperwork.  Also, for the first time, the states will be required to include foster youth as its own subgroup when it is disaggregating achievement data. Making foster youth a subgroup will document and make public, for the first time, the extent of the foster youth achievement gap across the country.

California has long provided foster youth with the right to immediate enrollment and, more recently, with the new Local Control Funding Formula has mandated disaggregated achievement data for foster youth.  The Every Child Achieves Act will ensure that foster youth in every state have the benefit of these provisions. Being able to finally have hard data to see the achievement gap among our foster youth will be invaluable in solving this problem. The other provision requiring states to provide assurances that students in foster care will be immediately enrolled even if they are lacking school records is vital because foster youth are often forced to change schools frequently, and are held out of school for significant periods of time during these transitions. This results in students falling behind and contributes to the low graduation and high dropout rates among students in foster care.

The bill was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously with a 22-0 vote. The bill will now be considered in front of Senate floor before moving on to the House. You can read the full text of the bill here.