Joshua Ford, 18, has spent a good deal of his life homeless, moving from shelters to friends’ homes, then back to shelters. He said he has attended about 30 schools, primarily in Santa Barbara County. Despite his home situation, he was a top-performing student until 9th grade.
“I missed important tests,” Ford said of his first year in high school. “I wasn’t there at the end of the year. I got all F’s. I was really discouraged. Those grades weren’t a reflection of me.”
A new law that will take effect in January is aimed at helping homeless students like Ford by allowing them to get partial credit for school work they have done. Assembly Bill 1806 – authored by Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September – also allows homeless students who enter a new high school in their junior year or later to graduate if they complete state graduation requirements. State requirements of 130 credits are typically much lower than school district requirements, which can be almost twice as much.
“I kept retaking classes,” Joshua Ford said. “I felt like I was caught in a never-ending cycle.”
Ford said in 9th grade, he was living in a city 50 miles from the school he was enrolled in. The family’s car frequently broke down and they were not aware that, under federal law, school districts are required to transport homeless students to the school where they initially enrolled. Instead, Ford kept switching schools as his family moved.
“I kept retaking classes,” Ford said. “I felt like I was caught in a never-ending cycle.”
Ford has been at La Cuesta High School, a continuation high school in Santa Barbara, for a little more than a year. He has been attempting to make up for 2½ years of lost credits while holding down a job to support himself.
“Now I’ll be able to graduate in January,” he said. “I didn’t expect it at all, but this law is exactly what I needed.” He plans to attend community college and transfer to a four-year university.
“I’m sure this law will also help other kids like me, other transitional youth that are having a hard time,” he said.
“I don’t know if I can overstate the impact of the partial credits and new graduation requirements,” said Bonnie Beedles of Santa Barbara County Office of Education. “We see so many students fall behind because of their family situation.”
In California about 269,000 students are homeless, defined as lacking a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence. Foster youth already have the benefits the new law is providing to homeless students.
Bonnie Beedles, program development and accountability manager for the Santa Barbara County Office of Education, said having the benefits extended to homeless students “is huge.” Part of Beedles’ job is coordinating services for homeless students such as Ford.
“I don’t know if I can overstate the impact of the partial credits and new graduation requirements,” Beedles said. “We see so many students fall behind because of their family situation.”
Joan Reynolds, director of Healthy Start for the Lake County Office of Education, said many homeless students faced with taking a class for the third or fourth time and then having to move again “can’t take it. They drop out.”
Being able to get partial credit makes them feel like “this gives me a chance to graduate, rather than the system is against me,” she said.
Makeda Johnson, 23, of Esparto in Yolo County, missed most of 9th grade and part of 10th grade because her family was homeless. Although the law came too late for her, she said she is glad it has passed.
“I almost gave up on school,” she said. “It felt kind of pointless to repeat everything.”
She made up credits at a continuation high school and graduated. But because the courses did not meet university entrance requirements, she was unable to attend a four-year university. She is currently in community college and plans to attend Sacramento State in a year.
Because students who take advantage of the new law may not be eligible for four-year public universities, Alan Sanger, an education support liaison for the Trinity County Office of Education, said the benefits from the law, such as graduating with fewer credits, will be a “fall-back situation” for the students he works with.
“We want to get them college-ready with full credits,” he said, providing transportation so they don’t have to switch schools. “But I think it’s important for them to know there are now some things that can be done so they won’t give up on graduating from high school.”