Outreach to foster youth complicates LCFF
(Calif.) The state’s 43,000 public school students in foster care pose an enormous academic challenge to districts despite recent efforts to emphasize intervention programs.
But under the state’s new education funding and accountability system, districts may face even greater obstacles defining relevant educational goals for the subgroup and then carrying them out in consultation with foster parents and student guardians.
“When it comes to foster students – everything becomes just a lot more complicated for schools on virtually every front,” said Molly Dunn, an attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights who specializes on education issues. “First and foremost is just identifying who the foster youth are in the schools because up until now there hasn’t been a systematic way of doing that.”
Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, negotiated with Legislative leaders last summer, requires for the first time that school districts include foster youth as a subgroup for the purposes of accountability reporting.
The California mandate, a first nationally, imposes the mandate on every district with as few as 15 students in foster care.
The grim litany of facts describing the academic outcomes of students in foster care is well established, including new research released last week from the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and the California Child Welfare Indicators Project.
About 75 percent of foster youth perform below grade level; are about twice as likely as the rest of the student population to be held back; and drop out of school about twice as frequently.
By far the single biggest negative factor common among virtually every student in foster care is the unstable living environments. Shifting from one foster home to another results in the average student in foster care changing schools six times before they turn 18. And each transfer costs them about four to six months of learning time.
In recent years lawmakers have sought to respond to the special problems facing foster youth by passing legislation in 2003 that established the educational rights of students in foster care and in 2009, with a bill that gave district boards some discretion over state high school graduation requirements.
The LCFF, however, established far higher standards of accountability for districts to serve the foster youth by including them as one of three targeted groups considered “educationally disadvantaged” – along with English learners and students who qualify for subsidized meals.
Under the new system, all local educational agencies receive a base grant based on average daily attendance. A ‘supplemental grant’ equal to 20 percent of the base targets disadvantaged students with a ‘concentration grant’ for LEAs with enrollments of 55 percent disadvantaged.
Both the targeted grants are based on an unduplicated count.
Because the funding system applies no distinction between English learners, foster youth and low-income students – districts might tempted to view the academic needs similarly.
From a demographic perspective, students in foster care might look a lot like low-income students. According to WestEd, of the state’s 43,140 foster students in K-12 last year, almost half were Hispanic – 43 percent; while almost a third – 26 percent – were African Americans; and 23 percent were white.
But unlike the other two subgroups, students supervised in child welfare came to the system as the result of traumatic events. Most of them, 78 percent, came to the program because of neglect; 11 percent because of physical abuse; and 4 percent as a result of sexual abuse.
Dunn said it would be a mistake for LEAs to lump foster youth in with low-income students for accountability purposes.
“Foster youth really have a unique set of educational needs that are truly distinct from other low-income students,” she said. “Some districts want to lump foster youth in with low-income because they are counted in terms of generating funds as low-income – but they really need a separate set of interventions.”
The first thing, experts say, is to get a good accounting of who the foster youth are being served. State law requires for the first time that the Department of Social Services share its data base of enrollees with the California Department of Education, who in turn are required to pass on the information to LEAs.
This new statewide sharing system isn’t expected to come online until the fall, but some districts are already engaged in locating their foster students by reaching out to stakeholder groups including:
- County child welfare agencies.
- County offices of education foster youth services programs.
- Court-appointed special advocates and volunteer education rights holders
- Foster youth organizations (CYC, Foster Club, etc.) and individual foster youth.
- Foster parent and kinship care organizations such as Grandparents as Parents and Community Coalition.
Once a district’s foster youth is identified, school managers can begin to access the needs and organize parent outreach.
When it comes to making budget considerations, advocates say schools should strongly consider hiring foster youth counselors.
The Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth has proposed that districts increase the number of counselors specializing in foster youth by July, 2015 so that at least 20 percent of the population is getting services.
Dunn said that foster youth counselors provide a good link between districts, social workers and parents or the student’s educational rights holder.
“It’s really important that schools know who the education rights holder is,” she said. “I spent a number of years as a dependency attorney and sometimes you wouldn’t know if something happened – sometimes the schools would call the foster parent who didn’t happen to be the education rights holder. Really the idea is to build a network to keep kids from falling through the cracks.”
To view a sample LCAP for foster youth developed by a coalition advocate groups visit: http://kids-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Sample-County-LCAP-for-Foster-Youth.pdf