Trump, Obama Agree on Educational Stability; What about Foster Kids?

When it comes to their children’s education, Donald Trump and Barack Obama are in lockstep.

Both understand that uprooting a child from school can impede educational achievement, and disrupt fragile social and emotional development.

Trump is leaving his son Barron in New York when he moves into the White House this week. Obama is staying in Washington beyond his presidency so that his youngest daughter, Sascha, can finish high school there.

Educational stability. It’s a concept every parent understands, but something that the nation’s education and foster care systems are yet to get right. It’s about time the federal government guaranteed educational stability as a basic right for children in foster care.

Making sure they have a ride to school is a good place to start.

Foster students come to school predisposed to struggle. The trauma of abuse and neglect coupled with being removed from their natal homes invariably causes an emotional strain that often plays out in compromised academic achievement.

Less than half of all foster youth will graduate from high school. And contrary to an almost ubiquitous desire among these youngsters to attain a college degree, research has shown that only 2-9 percent do.

Neither the foster care nor educational system can controvert the family trauma that contributes to these statistics. But surely they can act more like the president and president-elect when it comes to school disruptions.

Students in foster care experience one to two school moves a year, and by the time they leave the system, it is not uncommon for them to have changed schools five times. To say the effects of these moves are negative is obvious, even trite.

In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which overhauled the 1965 law that guides the federal government’s role in public education. Advocates for foster youth, who have long pressed for more involvement from school systems, were pleased by a number of provisions meant to help these youngsters succeed.

One of those provisions centers on keeping children in their “school of origin” if they are moved out of that school’s catchment area, as is often the case when children are removed from their homes and placed into foster care. But transportation is always an issue, because loading children onto buses costs money.

Instead of resolving whether the education or foster care system should pay for the transportation, Every Student Succeeds punted the issue to local jurisdictions. Per the law, local education agencies and their counterparts in foster care can either share the cost or agree on who should pay it.

If both education and foster care can’t work either scenario out, it is unclear that a child will get the transportation they need to avert another, often painful, school move. In November, the Department of Education devoted a few lines of its 388-page “final regulations” on ESSA to the issue of transportation for foster kids. According to the regulations, state education agencies must have “clear written procedures” describing which agency will pay for transportation and foot the bill in the event of a dispute.

Advocates I spoke with say that this ambiguity will be a major sticking point in implementation.

I think students in foster care deserve more than that.

Either the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services, which presides over federal foster care funding, should foot the bill with a national fund supporting school transportation for foster youth who want to remain in their school of origin. Or, the two agencies should set up a joint fund to do so.

As different as our two presidents are, I am sure they can agree that giving a foster child a ride to school is a worthwhile investment.

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Daniel Heimpel
About Daniel Heimpel 192 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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