Serving low-income kids requires multiple local agencies

Serving low-income kids requires multiple local agencies

(Calif.) With child poverty rates remaining substantially higher than before the recession, county offices of education need to collaborate more with other local agencies to help schools better serve low-income youth, advocates say.

According to a report released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, nearly 20 percent of children in the state lived below the poverty line in 2016, well above the rate in 2007 of about 17 percent.

While efforts to improve collaboration among education and child welfare agencies at the state level has improved schools’ abilities to identify these students,  that same level of cooperation hasn’t trickled down to the local level in many parts of the state, according to experts.

“I think California, at the state level, is actually leading the way in a number of regards when it comes to identifying certain subgroups of children living in poverty,” said Jesse Hahnel, executive director of the National Center for Youth Law, non-profit law firm that advocates for low-income children.

Hahnel said that while schools in many states struggle to identify students who are foster youth, for instance, data sharing between the California departments of social services and education–which is then shared with districts–has allowed schools to better identify and design services for students in foster care, as well as other low-income subgroups.

That being said, similar interagency partnerships are rarely seen at the county and district level where children actually receive supplemental services such as physical or behavioral health needs once identified as in need of support.

“There isn’t any one system or set of agencies that is going to be able to adequately support children living in poverty, because the needs of low-income children is immense,” Hahnel said in an interview. “There are things that schools, districts and county offices of education can and should be doing, but they shouldn’t be doing those things by themselves.”

Research has shown that children in low-income households tend to experience stressful environments, receive poor-quality child care, and have lower levels of school achievement and higher suspension and expulsion rates than their more affluent peers. Earlier this year, researchers from Rice University in Texas found that children living in neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of families live below the federal poverty line often start kindergarten almost a year behind based on standardized math, reading and writing assessment scores.

In California, child poverty rates vary significantly across racial and ethnic lines as well as counties. Santa Barbara County has the highest rate, at nearly 29 percent, while Placer County has the low of almost 12 percent, according to the 2017 PPIC report. Meanwhile, the poverty rate for Latino children, at about 30 percent statewide, was more than double that of Asian Americans at about 14.5 percent and white children, at 11.5 percent.

The states Local Control Funding Formula allots more money to schools with higher rates of low-income children, English learners and foster youth, requiring that supplemental funds be used for services that will help improve the academic outcomes of these subgroups. Districts must engage parents and other community stakeholders in developing their Local Control Accountability Plans for the state, and outline spending decisions and academic goals for their students.

Some districts have gone beyond working with parents, and have developed plans that include their county office of education, local child welfare agencies, health agencies, behavioral health agencies and employment offices, Hahnel said, but such examples are few and far between.

Hahnel said that one of the most promising things about the LCFF was that it provided an opportunity during the planning process for districts to work with parents, but that it was a missed opportunity not to require that they work with other agencies also serving low-income children.

“There are examples of counties where district LCAP specify what the school district will do and also what various other county agencies will do for populations of low-income children, but that’s not happening as much as it should,” Hahnel said. “We think that’s something that the next Legislature and next governor can do–to require that kind of interagency coordinating and planning at the local level.”