Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a pilot program to ensure that students in foster care have transportation to their so-called “school of origin.”
The stopgap measure was designed to bring the county’s 81 school districts into compliance with a federal education law aimed at promoting the educational stability of children in foster care. At issue was a mandate within the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act that school districts work with local child welfare agencies to design and implement plans to pay for the transportation of foster youth to the school they were attending when they entered foster care, even if they are placed outside of that school’s catchment area.
The deadline was December 10, 2016.
Beyond the question of compliance with the law, the supervisors’ action is important to the roughly 12,000 school-aged foster youth living in the county today.
“This motion is about really addressing something that we all believe is necessary and that is – hallelujah, amen – but our kids are our future, and at the very least we have an obligation to ensure that they [foster youth] get the education and the tools necessary,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, lead author of the motion, during today’s board meeting.
As youth are bounced from placement to placement, they often change schools. Each school change can cost months in academic progress, not to mention the psychosocial toll of having to make new friends and navigate a new school.
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Daily News ran a feature story on a 16-year-old foster youth named Alex. After a living arrangement fell apart with his uncle during his freshman year, the then 14-year-old wound up at a group home in Long Beach, more than 50 miles from Canyon High School near Santa Clarita where he was thriving in the school band.
Luckily, Alex is part of an elite summer academic program for foster youth on the University of California, Los Angeles’ campus. There he met the program’s director, Paige Chan, who expedited the process to get a bandmate’s parents approved as foster parents for Alex near Canyon High. He was back in the band, and living a five-minute drive from school.
“It felt like a relief,” Alex said.
For Shirley, who is part of the same Bruin Guardian Scholars Academy cohort at UCLA, finding transportation to the Antelope Valley school where she was excelling was also an issue.
When she was a freshman, Shirley changed foster-care placements and also schools. While her new school, Palmdale High, was only five miles from her current school, Shirley didn’t want to move. She was part of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps there.
Like in Alex’s case, Chan stepped in. She argued with school officials to get Shirley back to Knight High, with an interesting caveat: Shirley’s biological father would do the driving.
“It was actually good because my father was able to be involved, parenting wise,” Shirley said from the busy pool deck at a high school swim meet. “He was the ed rights holder and he was on top of that for me.”
The rides every day helped convince the court to re-unify Shirley with her parents. Stable in school and home, Shirley said, “My grades haven’t been this high since ever.”
The pilot that the supervisors approved today will tap into $300,000 from the Department of Children and Family Services, $100,000 from the County Office of Education and an additional $100,000 of in-kind transportation costs from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The program will start this month, and will run through the end of December. Using a combination of Metro TAP cards, reimbursements to caregivers and contracts with a “child-friendly private car service,” the county aims to test what works and come up with a more robust plan in the new year.