January 18, 2016
In California, more than 60,000 children are in foster care. Removed from their homes because of neglect or abuse, foster youth experience additional trauma when bounced from foster home to foster home. This leads to academic challenges as one-third of foster youth change schools at least once during the school year. Two-thirds of foster youth perform below grade level, and two-thirds have been suspended at least once. Even when compared with similarly economically disadvantaged students, foster youth are less likely to graduate from high school, enroll in college, or remain in college for a second year. With these academic outcomes, it is imperative that districts begin to examine and address the effects of mobility on foster student performance.
The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) advocates on behalf of low-income children to ensure that public agencies created to protect and care for children do so effectively. NCYL’s FosterEd initiative works to address the particular educational needs of students in foster care.
Thanks to advocacy by NCYL and allied organizations, California took a big step forward to address foster youth educational needs through Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). In 2013, LCFF became law, making California the first state in the country to hold school districts accountable for the educational outcomes of foster youth. Districts with 15 or more foster youth need to show that these students are succeeding in school. These districts must develop Local Control Accountability Plans that identify goals, action steps, and the resources devoted to foster youth achievement.
Another key element of LCFF is the Evaluation Rubrics, a “holistic, multidimensional assessment of school district and individual school site performance.” The State Board of Education (SBE) currently is reviewing drafts of the rubrics, which must be adopted by October 2016. The Evaluation Rubrics are an opportunity to highlight the academic achievement and progress of foster youth. NCYL has been actively involved in developing the rubrics, so that the rubrics will enable school districts to assess and address the needs of their foster youth populations.
Specifically, NCYL has urged the SBE to adopt rubrics that display disaggregated data for foster youth. What gets measured in the rubrics will drive the actions and investments by school districts. Along with other advocates, including the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Children Now, Public Counsel, and the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, NCYL has demanded foster youth data on all the LCFF state priorities, such as student achievement, school climate, access to courses, student engagement, and parent involvement. Such disaggregated data can inform school districts on how effective their actions, services, and expenditures have been in improving foster youth outcomes and closing the foster youth achievement gap. Current drafts of the rubrics contain data displays disaggregated by student subgroup.
Second, NCYL has advocated for foster youth specific metrics, because these youth face unique challenges to their education, including placement instability, trauma, and the absence of a consistent parent, guardian, and/or educational surrogate. Given these facts, the rubrics must include foster youth metrics to assist districts in understanding their strengths and weaknesses as it relates to educating foster youth. NCYL and other foster youth advocates have encouraged the SBE to measure the percentage of foster youth students who transferred schools within the district one or more times during a single school year and the percentage of foster youth students who participated in statewide testing. The current draft of the rubrics includes a metric for percentage of students in alternative education, and NCYL is urging the metric measure only for students in county community, community day, and continuation schools, where many foster youth students are funneled. Metrics that illuminate the educational reality facing foster youth are necessary to help districts better serve this unique student population.
Lastly, NCYL’s FosterEd initiative sponsored AB 854, which Assemblymember Shirley Weber authored, and Governor Brown signed in 2015. AB 854 expands the definition of foster youth in the Foster Youth Services (FYS) program to align with the broader definition used under LCFF so that thousands of additional children are eligible for the FYS program. AB 854 also enables FYS Coordinators to improve coordination between the child welfare and education systems, which is essential for effective implementation of LCFF for foster youth.
NCYL will continue to fight for foster youth in California’s new education accountability system. LCFF presents an unprecedented opportunity address foster youth educational needs, which have long been invisible in schools and districts. Through diligent advocacy, NCYL is working to ensure LCFF realizes its full promise for students in foster care.
Organizations mentioned/involved: National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), Alliance for Children’s Rights, Public Counsel