States may soon have to report on progress of homeless, foster youth

August 3, 2015

The U.S. Congress may soon be following California’s lead in requiring states to provide data on the academic progress of all homeless and foster youth and provide additional resources to those students.

A bill amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include homeless and foster youth as two new subgroups of students has passed the U.S. Senate, and two similar bills are being considered by the House of Representatives. Under the current version of the ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, student subgroups are based on race and ethnicity, English learner status and disability.

“Too many students in our classrooms are worried about where they will sleep that night, where their next meal will come from, or who they can turn to if they need help,” said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., who introduced a homeless and foster youth bill in the House with Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa.

Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., has introduced a similar bill in the House aimed primarily at foster youth that includes some provisions for homeless youth: the Education Stability for Foster Youth Act.

If Congress approves the changes, it will be particularly significant for foster youth because states are not now required by federal law to follow their progress or provide additional support. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, states already have to report the test scores of homeless students and allow them to remain in the same school if they move during the school year.

But the bills being considered by Congress go further, such as requiring districts to create educational liaisons to coordinate services for homeless and foster youth. The bills also require districts to allow foster students – like homeless students – to stay at their school of origin if they move or change homes, including providing transportation from their new home to the school.

Eventually the House and Senate will consider whether to support these changes in a conference committee that will try to reach a compromise on a new version of the ESEA. If a compromise is reached, the new bill would be sent to President Barack Obama. The last time the ESEA was reauthorized was in 2002. The law was originally slated to be reauthorized in 2007, but for the past eight years Congress has been unable to agree on how to change it.

In California, school districts already are expected to show how the needs of homeless and foster students are being addressed in districts’ Local Control and Accountability Plans. An LCAP is a three-year plan that shows how districts plan to spend state funds to improve student achievement, with particular attention to high-needs students – foster and homeless youth, low-income students and English learners. The plans are updated annually with input from the community.

“California is pushing the rest of the country to do things that California has already embraced,” said Jesse Hahnel, executive director of the National Center for Youth Law. “School districts in most states have no policies or practices aimed at closing foster youth achievement gaps.”

Studies have shown that both homeless and foster students are at risk of dropping out of school. A recent study by researchers at the Center for Promise at Tufts University found that homeless students were 87 percent more likely to stop going to school. Being in foster care was also found to be a risk factor. A study of California foster youth by WestEd found that students in foster care had the highest dropout rate and the lowest graduation rate of all subgroups of students.

About 310,000 students are homeless in California. Homeless students include those who are living in motels or shelters and doubling up with other families. An estimated 60,000 children in California are in foster care.

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