Written by Jamie Hinsz, FosterClub Policy Specialist
Photo by: Evan Vucci/AP
Today is a historic day in education policy, as President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. This law responds to the gaps in education faced by vulnerable and at-risk students, including youth in foster care and juvenile justice.
Not only is this key legislation governing education, but significant improvements in education for foster youth have not been enacted at the federal level since Chafee funds were authorized for educational purposed in 1999.
The education provisions in the Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 were the most recent attempt by federal lawmakers to address education issues for foster youth. The ESSA expands on those attempts with an intentional effort to improve education outcomes for youth in foster care.
Here are five ways foster youth benefit from the new law:
- Foster youth will now be able to remain in their original school even if they change placements. Sometimes, if a foster youth is being bullied or if there is a reason why the youth should change schools, they will be able to. Schools will work together with child welfare agencies to ensure that foster youth have transportation to and from school every day. Furthermore schools will immediately enroll foster youth if they must change schools, even if they do not have the appropriate records. Finally, schools will work together to gather and keep track of educational records for foster youth.
- Foster youth will not face as much bullying. The new law requires schools to reduce bullying, which would mean a significant improvement in school environments for foster youth who are often bullied.
- Foster youth will have more access to Charter schools. Sometimes, a Charter school is a better environment for students with diverse backgrounds, and Charter schools will now be an educational option for youth in foster care.
- Foster youth and families involved with the foster care system will have access to services through Family Engagement Centers. To receive funding, the centers must prove that the services offered are helpful and useful for foster youth and families involved in foster care.
- Foster youth will continue to see improvements in their educational experiences as more information is collected and tracked. Right now, it is hard for policy makers to understand where the gaps in education are for foster youth because there is not enough information about the educational experiences of foster youth. The new law requires reports to lawmakers and policymakers about the status of foster youth in education. Since foster youth will move schools less and since schools will have more access to educational records, policymakers will have access the information they need in order to understand the educational needs and outcomes of youth in foster care, and with this information they will be able to continue to improve the educational experiences of all foster youth.
Now that this law has passed, the agencies responsible for overseeing the new provisions will be writing regulations and working with states to plan for implementing the new law. The provisions will start taking effect in a couple years, and foster youth advocates are encouraged to remain involved in their communities and work with their schools, child welfare agencies, and education agencies to ensure that the implementation of the new law is completed effectively.