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, their 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 or the child has outstanding fees;
- 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 (see ODJFS website and ODE website). The guidance covers many aspects of the law’s implementation. For example, 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 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
- 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 and IDEA federal funds may also be available for certain children.
This federal webinar from September 2016 provides additional information about transportation.
Agency contacts who run into barriers working with school districts should email the Department of Education point of contact, Alexandra Nardo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the resources listed on the ODJFS and ODE websites above, check out these helpful links: