Whispers and Bated Breath

With historic gains for the education of California’s foster youth close at hand, advocates, service providers and this journalist-gone-rogue can hardly hold back the excitement.

It has been a long hard slog, but a broad coalition of foster youth and their supporters are close to realizing a long awaited dream. If the murmurs and whispers are true, then California’s freshly minted budget deal will include of major leaps forward in educating its 42,000 school-aged foster youth.

I remember a call with advocates soon after Governor Jerry Brown announced his plan to dramatically reform how public education is financed. His “Local Control Funding Formula” was sweeping, bold and predicated on the idea that the students in most need should get the most resources. The advocate conference call centered on the elimination of scores of “categorical funding” streams, among them: Foster Youth Services. But, the issue at hand was always bigger than a $15 million program serving foster youth. What that core of individuals on that call back in January were about to embark on was a six month odyssey, which — with the help of dedicated legislative staff and foster youth testimony — may just result in California providing the resources, data-sharing and accountability needed to give foster youth a much fairer chance at educational opportunity.

The legislature is expected to vote on the final budget deal by the end of the week. In it are the foundational reforms to education that appear positive for students in foster care. This moment, on the verge of materializing, would mark the culmination of a statewide, decades-long movement towards increased academic achievement for foster youth. That movement has already had nationwide repercussions, changing the way the federal government addresses this issue. A win here and now will not only translate into better policy in California, but better policy across the country.

So what are the whispers telling us?

The deal hammered out by the Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee, made up of leaders in the State Assembly and Senate, does not appear to “double count” foster youth, as advocates and this publication have argued for throughout the process. That being said, the increase in “concentration grants” coupled with stringent accountability measures may turn out to help fund many of the specific services that students in foster care so desperately need. Still, double-counting students in foster care is the right thing to do and epitomizes the idealogical thrust of the entire Local Control Funding Formula.

The deal may very well include language mandating that the California Department of Education and the California Department of Social Services exchange educational data on foster youth. This would take California far ahead of all other states in data-sharing, and would allow for much stronger accountability measures.

The most important step towards accountability will be an inclusion of foster youth as a subgroup in the Academic Performance Index (API). Having foster youth in the API will give the “accountability plans” that school districts and county offices of education will be compelled to create teeth, by giving appreciable outcomes to shoot for. Like the data-sharing piece of the package, this would be a national first.

Finally, the Conference Committee deal will preserve Foster Youth Services as a categorical funding stream.

The legislature will vote on the budget compromise by June 15th. After that it is up to the Governor to sign the final budget. Foster youth and their supporters wait with baited breath, ready to erupt if California’s sweeping educational reforms do in fact put foster students first.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change. 

This video was produced by Bonita Tindle, a graduate of FMC’s Guardians of Social Change Program and a current Journalism for Social Change Summer Fellow.

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Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Daniel Heimpel, Publisher, The Chronicle of Social Change 181 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at dheimpel@fosteringmediaconnections.org.