The new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), S. 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act,  with a text that runs over one thousand pages includes a number of long sought after reforms that are intended to help children in foster care and improvements in the McKinney-Vento Education For Homeless Children and Youth Act.

Foster care:

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) assisted by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) had been working since the 2008 Fostering Connection to Success Act to include in education law some of the same education guarantees that had been included in that 2008 child welfare law.  They were able to get bipartisan support for their efforts when the Senate HELP Committee took up the ESEA earlier this year.

The ESEA provisions include:

  • Allowing children and youth in foster care to remain in the same school even when they are placed in foster care or moved in foster care. Many children find themselves in different school districts due to the placement
  • Requiring schools to immediately enroll children in foster care in a new school after a move. It may not always be practical or in the best interest of a child to remain in the same school and this provision attempts to address circumstances when a child does not attend school for days or weeks because they are in state custody
  • Requiring points of contact in every state education agency as well as many school districts to better coordinate services to this population
  • Requiring plans for school transportation for youth in care to help address the challenge of who pays for the cost of transportation especially when a child attends a school away from their current foster home
  • As a condition of receiving ESEA funding the state education agency needs to provide assurances that there will be a collaboration with state and local child welfare agencies on the sometimes challenging transportation issues
  • Tracking achievement data for youth in care

When the 2008 Foster Connections to Success Act required the same or similar protections many state and local child welfare agencies found it a challenge to engage school districts since the mandate was on child welfare and not tied to federal education dollars. And while some Washington policymakers felt amending one federal law should be enough to address the matter it didn’t help that Congress could not coordinate across their committees and jurisdictions.  The change in the ESEA should now help to address that although it will still be a challenge.  Since 2008 there have been some efforts in Washington to bring the two sectors together.  This change in law should help reinforce such efforts.

Homeless Children and Youth

The ESEA also extended the McKinney-Vento Act which supplies a small but vital source of funds for children attending school who are homeless. This population of children can look very similar to the children and youth in foster care and frequently overlap.  Under the new ESEA law the authorization for McKinney-Vento was increased from $70 million to $85 million.  Significantly the funding for this program did increase from $65 million last year to $70 million this year.

The McKinney-Vento Act provides funding for local education coordinators who can assist in assuring that homeless children continue their access to school. Improvements in the law create new responsibilities on state education agencies to better track and provide data on children attending school who are homeless and requires greater access to information and rights to parents of homeless children. The reauthorization also attempts to strengthen requirements around a child’s access to school.  Similar to the foster care, provisions require that children who live in homeless families have access to school placements that are in their best interest despite living outside of school district lines.

Other improvements include access to appropriate school credits despite possible movements, access to school counselors and access to information on independent student status in applying for college loans to name a few provisions.

Changes also include provisions that are intended to assist homeless families access pre-school programs and services for the IDEA part C, Infant and Toddler program.

For details on all the improvements to McKinney-Vento read the policy paper summary by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. (NAEHCY)