Please use the form below to sign your organization's name on to the letter below, which highlights recommendations for ensuring the ESEA Reauthorization bill promotes education success for children in foster care, children in the juvenile justice system, and children experiencing homelessness. This same letter (with adjustments for Senate and House), will be sent to Chairman Alexander (below), Ranking Member Murray on the HELP Committee and Chairman Kline, Ranking Member Scott on the Education and Workforce Committee, all of whom are taking the lead on the ESEA Reauthorization:
February 4, 2014
The Honorable Lamar Alexander
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
RE: Recommendations for ensuring the HELP Committee’s ESEA Reauthorization bill promotes educational success for children in foster care, children in the juvenile justice system, and children experiencing homelessness
Dear Chairman Alexander:
We the undersigned are organizations dedicated to improving the lives of the vulnerable children in the child welfare system, juvenile justice system, and who are experiencing homelessness. These children are highly mobile – moving in and out of shelters, foster homes, group care, and correctional settings – which leads to school changes and disrupted relationships. Too often they fail to receive needed attention in school, experience long delays in enrollment, or worse, are turned away from school because of their life situations. These challenges cause abysmal educational outcomes and a concerted effort is needed to address their unique educational needs.
We urge you to include specific recommendations to promote educational stability and success for these children in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ bill to reauthorize ESEA, as described in detail below.
Children and youth in foster care
Changes to the ESEA are needed to ensure school stability and success for youth in foster care. Without this, foster children will needlessly bounce from school to school, falling further and further behind with each move. We therefore recommend that the ESEA reauthorization bill:
- Ensure that children may remain in their same school when they enter foster care and change foster care placements, provided it is in their best interest.
- Ensure children in foster care can enroll immediately when a school change is necessary, even without the records normally required for enrollment.
- Ensure that school records are maintained and immediately transferred if a child in foster care enters a new school.
- Require school districts and child welfare agencies both to have points of contact designated to assist children in foster care to get the education they need.
- Promote the collection, evaluation and sharing of information on the education of children in foster care to help improve educational outcomes.
- Require that credits children in foster care receive travel with them and are recognized when school moves are necessary.
- Require child welfare and education agencies to collaborate to develop and implement a plan on how transportation will be provided, arranged and funded to keep students in foster care in their school of origin when it is in the child’s best interest.
Children and youth in the juvenile justice system
ESEA, including Title I, Part D of the Act, should be strengthened to ensure youth receive a high quality education within correctional facilities as well as a smooth reentry to an appropriate school setting upon their return. We recommend that the ESEA reauthorization bill:
- Require states and local education agencies (LEAs) to establish a procedure for assessment and identification of the learning needs of youth upon entry into juvenile justice system.
- Require states to monitor and report specifically on LEAs’ compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for students with disabilities in correctional facilities.
- Require states and LEAs to establish procedures for the prompt reenrollment of youth in appropriate schools upon return from juvenile justice placement.
- Prohibit LEAs from automatically placing children returning from juvenile justice placements into alternative education programs.
- Require states and LEAs to establish procedures for the prompt transfer of educational records.
- Require LEAs to honor academic credits earned during placement in the juvenile justice system.
- Authorize federal funding for innovative practices aimed at ensuring the educational success of students reentering school from the juvenile justice system.
- Require local education agencies to allocate a portion of Title I, Part D funding for youth reentry.
- Authorize alternatives to the Title I, Part D “seat time” requirement.
- Implement sanctions or loss of preferential status for funding or other benefits for states and/or local education agencies that do not provide the required or appropriate educational services upon reentry or remove barriers to school reentry.
- Hold LEAs more accountable for graduation rates and including juvenile justice-involved youth in state accountability systems.
Children and youth experiencing homelessness
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, incorporated in ESEA, must be maintained and strengthened to ensure children and youth experiencing homelessness have a meaningful opportunity for school stability and success. The following amendments are needed to the Education of Homeless Children and Youths Title of the ESEA:
- Ensure that school district homeless liaisons, and state coordinators, have time and training to carry out their responsibilities.
- Ensure that homeless liaisons participate in professional development offered by the State.
- Enhance the school stability provisions of the law to ensure that students can stay in their same school when it is in their best interest.
- Improve access to, and retention in, pre-school for young homeless children.
- Require that the amount of funds reserved for homeless students under Title I Part A be based on a needs assessments, and clarify that funds can be used in all schools in a school district, as well as for transportation and liaisons.
- Provide additional assistance to unaccompanied youth by ensuring that liaisons assist them with the FAFSA, and that such youth are able to receive credit for work done satisfactorily in another district.
- Allow homeless children and youth transitioning from feeder schools to remain in their school district of origin, if it is in their best interest.
- Require school districts to adopt policies and practices to promote school success, including access to full participation in the academic and extra-curricular activities that are made available to non-homeless students.
- Require that States conduct monitoring of, and provide technical assistance to, all LEAs.
- Raise the authorized funding level for the McKinney-Vento Act to a minimum of $150 million so that more LEAs are able to receive subgrants to identify and support homeless children and youth.
- Upon adoption of protections for all children and youth in foster care described above, remove ‘awaiting foster care placement’ in the definition of homelessness.
We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss any or all of our comments with you in further detail and to provide specific language. Please contact MaryLee Allen at the Children’s Defense Fund (email@example.com), Jessica Feierman at the Juvenile Law Center (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Barbara Duffield of the National Association at the Education of Homeless Children and Youth at (email@example.com).
 While the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 created protections to help children in the child welfare system continue attending the same school even if their foster care living placement changes, the lack of clarity in education law has led to highly uneven implementation, and foster youth around the country still experiencing significant instability.