On Thursday the Education Department and HHS issued guidance, Non-Regulatory Guidance: Ensuring Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care that is intended to help implement new provisions of the reauthorized Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that seek to protect the education access for student who are also in foster care. The guidance includes 40 questions and answers on key issues including several that deal with the challenging transportation issues when a child in foster care leaves his or her district but continues to travel to the same school.
Secretary of Education John King said,
“For far too long, we as a country have failed so many of our most vulnerable students. We cannot allow the student who need our attention the most to be treated unfairly under the law.”
Since the 2008 law, Fostering Connections to Success Act, the education rights for children in foster care was written into child welfare law but not in education law. As a result, many child welfare agencies found it a challenge to get state and local education agencies to focus on the guarantees. The changes to the ESEA should provide a new force for children but as the guidance emphasizes, it will still require collaborations between the two sides.
For children placed into foster care there are a number of education challenges including being moved far from their current school. Both child welfare law (since 2008) and now education law (2016) requires certain protections including the right to remain in the same school when it’s in the child’s best interest or immediate admission to a new school if that is the best interest. A school move means the need for records transfer and collaboration between education and child welfare agencies. When staying in a distant school is required one of the challenges is how and which agency pays the transportation costs since the student may live beyond regular bus routes.
A bipartisan group of Senators requested this guidance in a letter sent to both agencies on May 5. Senator Al Franken (D-MN), who has been working on this issue through the education reauthorization process for years dating back to before 2008 when child welfare law was amended, praised the guidance and said that
“Foster kids sometimes change homes and schools a dozen times—or even more—throughout their childhood and in the past, if new foster parents lived in a different school district, the student had to change schools. But for a lot of these kids, school is where they feel safe, secure, and are able to find certainty. We wrote a measure into the new education law to address this, and I’m pleased that the Department of Education has released guidance to make sure states are supported as they implement this new provision.”
He was joined in his praise by other senators including Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the HELP Committee who said,
“All students should have the chance to further their education and succeed in life—but unfortunately, children in foster care face several unique challenges that make it hard for them to succeed in school, including high mobility rates and lack of educational stability. “These efforts will provide critically-needed clarity and guidance for how states, school districts, and child welfare agencies can work together to support foster children and enhance their educational success. I applaud the Departments for their leadership and dedication on behalf of children in foster care and encourage education and child welfare stakeholders to begin working together as quickly as possible to implement the new reforms.”