The Legal Center for Foster Care & Education has created a guide and factsheet, Roadmap for Foster Care and K–12 Data Linkages, that promotes the cooperation between state and local education and child welfare agencies in the sharing of data. The Center points out that by sharing data, child welfare and education agencies can work together to significantly improve educational outcomes for students in foster care.
The recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) directed greater coordination between the two entities and it also amended past data collection requirements on state education agencies.
ESSA requires education agencies to disaggregate and publicly report information about their performance. An example in the new ESSA federal regulations clarify that in reporting high school graduation rates to disaggregate data by foster care status. The Center argues that, such disaggregation requirements present an opportunity for states to implement high-quality linkages between the foster care and K–12 data systems, providing information to ensure that the learning needs of this vulnerable population are met.
Coordination between local education and child welfare agencies has been a long running struggle that has left a lot of children and youth in foster care behind. In 2008 Congress mandated through that year’s Fostering Connections to Success Act that state child welfare agencies were to assure certain rights for children in care including immediate enrollment in a new school or requiring continued attendance at the child’s current school if in their best interest. From the start implementing the 2008 law was a challenge with child welfare agencies indicating it was hard to get local education agencies to the table since the mandate was only on child welfare. ESSA changed that and mirror similar guarantees. It also created a priority on how school transportation issues would be decided between child welfare and school districts. It has still been a challenge and the Center Resource Guide points out that having high-quality data linkages between foster care and K–12 data systems allows states to address key challenges such as:
- Are students in foster care immediately enrolled in school?
- How often do students in foster care change schools each year?
- What percentage of students in foster care are receiving special education services or are enrolled in advanced coursework compared to students who are not in foster care?
- What are the academic outcomes and on-time high school graduation rates of students in foster care compared to those of their peers?
- What percentage of students in foster care receive suspensions or expulsions compared to students who are not in foster care?
- Are students in foster care consistently receiving services they are entitled to, such as free and reduced-price lunch?
- How should state policies be revised to help students in foster care successfully complete high school prepared for college and careers?