The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law in December 2015, and since that time, leaders in child protection and education have been working to implement provisions relating to foster youth, with the goal of improving their educational stability and ultimately educational success.
The need for action is clear: Foster children are more likely than their peers to be retained in a grade level and to drop out of high school. While the foster care provisions are one small part of the overall law, ESSA makes explicit for the first time that educational stability for foster youth is a shared responsibility between education and child protection. ESSA requires that:
- Youth in foster care remain in the same school even when their foster home placements change, if it is in the best interest of the youth;
- Schools immediately enroll children in foster care after a school move, even if they lack the proper paperwork;
- Every state education agency and school district identify a point of contact on foster youth; and
- School districts track and report on academic achievement for youth in care.
The Ohio departments of Job and Family Services and Education have issued Joint State Guidance covering many aspects of the law’s implementation. By December 10, local education and child protection agencies must collaborate to develop and implement clear written procedures governing: 1) The process for determining best interests of the child for remaining in the home school or moving to a new school; 2) How transportation will be provided and funded to ensure school stability for the duration of the child’s time in foster care; and 3) Dispute resolution in cases where there is disagreement over these matters.
If an agreement on best interests cannot be reached, guidance from the Obama Administration states that the child protection agency make the final call, but the guidance is less clear about which system pays for transportation when a dispute cannot be resolved. According to federal guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education:
- School districts must ensure that transportation is provided to foster youth;
- Transportation must be provided in a cost-effective manner (no or low cost), including foster parents providing transportation;
- Any additional costs (the difference between what a district would normally spend transporting a child to the newly assigned school and the cost of transportation to the school of origin) must be addressed in the agreement reached by the child protection agency and the school district; and
- Proposed regulations require the district to pay if negotiations fail.
Agencies (except ProtectOhio counties) may draw federal funds to support transportation costs for children who are IV-E eligible, but local match must be paid by the agency, although the district may agree to reimburse those costs. Title I federal funds may also be available for certain children. PCSAO is awaiting joint guidance from the Ohio departments of Education and Job and Family Services.
This federal webinar from September 2016 provides additional information about transportation.
What PCSAs Should Do Right Now
- Identify a single agency Point of Contact (POC) for education issues.
- Collect contact information for the superintendent of each school district in your county by downloading this spreadsheet from the Ohio Department of Education. (Sort the spreadsheet by county. School districts that cross county borders are listed only in one county, not both, so check the list carefully and pull information from neighboring counties if needed.)
- Using the contact information in the spreadsheet, mail or email a standard form letter to all of the superintendents in districts that serve your county indicating your agency’s POC.
- NEW! School District Points of Contact as of Jan. 1, 2017
- NEW! Joint State Guidance from ODJFS and ODE
- U.S. Department of Education
- Ohio Department of Education
- American Bar Association’s Legal Center for Foster Care & Education
- Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Workshop at PCSAO’s annual conference Sept. 22 at 9:30 a.m. and Sept. 23 at 8:30 a.m.
- Download PCSAO’s infographic on the law (shown above)