New school funding law sets first-time accountability for foster youth

New school funding law sets first-time accountability for foster youth

Public comment follows this story.

New laws that ushered in California’s landmark Local Control Funding Formula call on the departments of social services and education for the first time to identify and share information about foster students with school districts.

Schools are also mandated to track and report on the academic progress of foster youth – making California the first to do so in the nation.

The new requirements could prove challenging for many schools – mostly because it is simply unfamiliar territory, says one expert who helped write the section of law emphasizing this new student subgroup’s success.

“This is not a subgroup of students that school districts have traditionally focused on, unlike English learner students and low-income students, where for many years they’ve been trying to improve the educational outcomes for those subgroups,” said Jesse Hahnel, an attorney and director of the California-based FosterEd, a non-profit initiative of the National Center for Youth Law focused specifically on improving education outcomes for foster children.

“This is a new thing for most school districts,” he said.

Hahnel and FosterEd were among a coalition of organizations that provided feedback regarding the provisions of AB 97 (the Local Control Funding Formula bill) related to foster children. The LCFF provides additional funding to schools with identified populations of at-risk students: English learners, socio-economically disadvantaged students and foster youth.

Hahnel said district officials, in various stages of developing accountability plans required by the LCFF, should reach out to those already familiar with the unique needs of foster children – local child welfare and juvenile justice agencies, as well as county offices of education – teaming up to set goals and create educational plans that adequately meet their needs.

“Interagency coordination is important to school districts – and to foster children – because often times the child welfare agency or the county office can provide supports and services that the district may not be readily able to provide,” said Hahnel. “That’s why we are really encouraging districts to work with these other agencies that have deep expertise in foster youth issues when developing goals and objectives for their Local Control Accountability Plans.”

The inclusion of foster youth as a separate subgroup in the LCFF comes as the result of years of research that shows these students have unique educational needs and a significant achievement gap compared to students in the general population as well as those in the other subgroups.

As required under the new law, the departments of education and social services are currently negotiating a contract allowing the direct sharing of information on students in the foster care system.

CDE must, on a weekly basis, share with school districts and county offices of education the identities of students who are in the foster care system. Fifteen or more such students enrolled in a district or COE constitute a subgroup whose academic performance must be specially addressed by the LEA.

Some school district leaders have already taken steps to form alliances aimed at meeting goals for foster children as required under LCFF, said Hahnel, who offered FosterEd’s free services to any districts or coalition of districts or LEAs who may need assistance formulating a plan.

In Santa Cruz County, for example, FosterEd has been instrumental in helping the county office of education, all school districts and child welfare agencies create a network to support and monitor students in the foster system.

Every county office of education, said Hahnel, already operates a foster youth service program that is still funded separately by the state to support all foster youth in a given county. This is a logical starting point for districts, which now must develop goals and objectives to boost the academic performance of their foster youth subgroup and provide details – including how financial expenditures are linked to those programs – in their Local Control Accountability Plans, required under the LCFF.

Hahnel said he and his group are engaged in the work currently underway by CDE and state board of education staff on a template for the LCAP and, specifically, how the template will “facilitate the creation of unique goals and objectives for foster youth.”

Districts, however, should already be discussing how they can use the additional funding they’ll be receiving to provide programs and services that benefit foster youth, and what those programs and services should be, Hahnel said. The LCFF legislation lays out the state’s priorities for educating students, including the individual subgroups, and any guidance or templates handed down by the state board are likely to closely mirror those priorities.

Hahnel said he believes the educational and social services agencies working together can best help students in the foster care system by creating an educational plan for each student – similar to the Individualized Education Plans required for special education students.

Education plans for foster youth wouldn’t necessarily require all the elements of an IEP but could make a huge difference in terms of foster students’ academic achievement, said Hahnel.

“The child welfare agency doesn’t necessarily have the expertise to develop an education plan for these kids so the thing that would make sense and really move the needle for a lot of these kids would be for LEAs to assess the educational strengths and needs of individual foster children and then develop an education plan for that child based on those strengths and needs in coordination with the child welfare agency. The plan could then be integrated with the child welfare agency's larger case plan for the child,” Hahnel said.

Districts also don’t necessarily have to build new programs for foster youth from the ground up, he noted, because many of them may already offer or have access to programs and services that can be leveraged to help meet new goals and objectives included in the LCAP. Some of these could include existing remediation services, summer enrichment and after-school programs.

“There’s a lot of things foster youth need where the district is probably already providing that service – they just need to make it more accessible to foster students,” said Hahnel.

A recent report by The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd concluded that foster youth are more likely to change schools during the school year, are more likely to drop-out than graduate and are more likely than the general population to be enrolled in the lowest performing schools. The report also found that nearly one in five students in foster care is classified as having some type of disability.

Of California’s nearly six million students enrolled in K-12 public schools in 2009-10, 43,140 – about one in every 150 students – had spent some period of time in child welfare-supervised foster care that year, according to “The Invisible Achievement Gap: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools.”

Based on 2009-10 enrollment data, the majority of California students in foster care were enrolled in just a small number of districts. Specifically, two thirds of these students were enrolled in 10 percent of the state’s school districts, with each of these districts enrolling at least 100 students in foster care.

One in five California school districts reported enrolling no students in foster care while the majority of districts reported having between one and 49 students in foster care.

Public Comment:

I am a mother who has managed to get one child, my son, through a college-prep high school and into UC Santa Cruz. My second child, a daughter, is currently a freshman in that same college-prep high school.

My son is very artistic and excels in music, art, film-making, etc. Beginning when my son was in the second grade, when STAR tests and API scores were instituted in 1999, my life was made a virtual hell because my son struggled with the math portion of the STAR tests. We live in an area where everything is measured and scored and those API scores are tied to property values so there is a lot of pressure from both the schools and the community to keep those scores high.

We relied upon tutors to help get him through the rigorous and challenging math courses that were required for him to graduate from high school. At times, we were spending $1,000 a month on supplemental tutors and other courses – like the SAT prep courses – to get him up to speed and keep him on the college track. On weekends, instead of going out and relaxing, we would shut the house down so the tutors could teach in a calm environment. I think it is fair to say we were very hands on parents. While there were many setbacks and grades that were not stellar, we kept at it until he graduated and was accepted to UC Santa Cruz.

My daughter, on the other hand, is breezing through. She is more focused and is able to handle the rigors of a college-prep high school. Life has gotten much easier. But that could change anytime.

The point I am trying to make is if foster youth are going to succeed in California's public schools, no state agency or “funding formula” can substitute for a parent or a group of concerned individuals who have the best interest of that child at heart.

Thus, if foster youth are going to succeed someone needs to be there to shepherd these kids through the system and be there to pick them up when they fall. They will fall. All kids fall. Mine certainly did.

Hopefully this “funding formula” takes this kind of effort and rewards it accordingly.

Respectfully, Marcia Harris more