Liv Ames for EdSource

A review of California district plans for improving school climate shows that few districts have identified specific goals to improve attendance and reduce suspensions and expulsions of foster students.

Public Counsel, a public interest law firm based in Los Angeles, reviewed the Local Control and Accountability Plans of the 64 districts in the state with at least 150 foster students. The plans are supposed to describe goals and actions the district will take to improve in eight priority areas, including school climate, with specific goals and actions for three subgroups of students – low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

The 64 districts include 55 percent of the state’s foster students, said Laura Faer, a co-author of the report, Fostering Education Success, released Wednesday.

Foster youth are now included as a subgroup under state law because of the difficulties they face and their overall low academic performance. Foster youth – taken from their families because of abuse or neglect – often are placed in multiple homes and schools during their time in foster care. Most of them lack a consistent adult to ensure their needs are met. In California, foster youth are less likely to graduate from high school than low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities. They also have the highest dropout rate. For these reasons, the report’s authors say, districts need to develop specific goals to meet foster students’ needs.

Public Counsel

Public Counsel found that few districts had specific attendance goals for foster students.

Most districts, however, have not yet met that challenge, according to the review of their LCAPs by Public Counsel. Among other findings:

  • Only 5 percent of districts provided suspension goals that were specific for foster youth. Twenty-five percent included foster youth with their goals for other students.
  • Only Temecula Valley Unified had a stand-alone goal specifically addressing its foster youth expulsion rate. Fourteen percent of districts included foster youth with their goals for other students.
  • Two school districts – Temecula Valley Unified and Hacienda La Puente – listed actions to reduce suspensions and expulsions that specifically targeted foster youth. Seventeen percent of districts included foster youth with their overall goals for other students.
  • Only Temecula Valley Unified allocated funding to reduce foster youth suspensions and expulsions.

With one exception, districts also did not provide baseline data from which to determine whether they were making progress in reducing suspensions and expulsions of foster youth. Los Angeles Unified was the only district that provided the data and only for suspensions. However, when districts were developing their plans in spring 2014, they had not received information from the state about who their foster youth were.

While these data are “discouraging, we recognize that districts were hampered in their ability to effectively identify the needs of foster youth,” said the report’s co-authors, Faer and Marjorie Cohen.

However, as of fall 2014, the California Department of Education provides districts with a list of their foster students so they will be able to meet the requirements of the new state school funding law, which recognizes foster students as a separate subgroup and provides supplemental funding for them. Faer said she is optimistic that now that districts know who their foster students are, they will be more specific when they update their plans this spring.

“The legal change that created the foster youth subgroup should be making a difference in the lives of foster youth,” Faer said. “So this year, we need school districts to make it real for them.”

The report recommends that districts “invest in well-trained staff who can be a single, continuous point of contact for foster youth and who can navigate across and coordinate with multiple systems,” such as the courts and the California Department of Social Services. The report also suggests that districts implement positive disciplinary approaches in their schools as alternatives to suspensions, giving priority to schools that have the most foster students.

“The legal change that created the foster youth subgroup should be making a difference in the lives of foster youth,” Faer said. “So this year, we need school districts to make it real for them.”

The report points to Temecula Valley Unified as an example because of its commitment to provide counseling and a specific person to support foster youth. The district is clear about its goals and the funds it plans to allocate for foster students, the report states. The district’s plan also calls for implementing positive disciplinary practices, establishing a safe place for foster youth to store personal items during transition and creating a resource center to welcome foster youth to school.

“We are looking at how to stay connected and create relationships,” said Debra Jilek, executive assistant to the superintendent at Temecula Valley Unified. “We’re investing in that.”


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