Last week a bipartisan group of Senators joined onto a letter to HHS and the Department of Education calling on the two departments to implement new provisions in the new reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) regarding the education rights of children in foster care.

The senators, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Ranking Member Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) called on HHS and Education to assist states, school districts, and child welfare agencies to implement reforms to support children in foster care through educational stability in a timely manner by providing guidance to states, school districts, and child welfare agencies as they implement provisions regarding educational stability for children in foster care.

Both the Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 and the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2016 (ESSA), include key reforms to support children in foster care and enhance their educational success it is hoped greater progress can be made in education access for children in foster care. The letter said in part,

“Children in foster care face many unique educational challenges,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “Most notably, high mobility rates and a lack of educational stability make it difficult for foster children to connect with caring, supportive adults and succeed in school… Much work still remains to be done, as the real promise of these important bipartisan provisions rests in implementation and a commitment at the local level. Ensuring that Congressional intent is carried out will require strong communication and collaboration between child welfare agencies, state educational agencies, and local educational agencies.”

The senators also asked specifically,

“in consultation with a diversity of stakeholders who will be responsible for implementation at the state and local level –
1. Implement the awaiting foster care provision in section 9101(a)(1)(B) and the provisions of 1112(c)(5)(B) by December 10, 2016.
2. Collaborate and issue joint guidance by mid-summer, consistent with the requirements and limits of the law, explaining the requirements related to educational stability for children in foster care, including requirements related to school stability, local transportation plans, points of contact, and reporting. This guidance should include multiple examples of how child welfare agencies and local educational agencies collaborate to meet the requirements of section 1112(c)(5) and protect the local discernment to establish an appropriate funding plan.
3. Use the same definition for foster care currently used in Health and Human Services regulations (45 CFR Sec. 1355.20) to define the term “child in foster care”.
4. Provide technical assistance to state and local educational agencies to ensure that requirements related to children in foster care are carried out with fidelity.”

When a child is placed into foster care and it is in the child’s best interest they are supposed to be able to stay in their current school even if they are placed in a foster care placement outside of those school district lines. When it’s in the child’s best interest to move to another school then the state is supposed to assure immediate enrollment into the new school regardless of records transfer and other hindrances that can cause a child to miss weeks or even months of school. The provisions first enacted through child welfare law in 2008 was moving slowly since the legal burden was placed entirely on child welfare agency and in some instances schools might not have been as attentive to the requirement. Now the requirements are mirrored in federal education law.