With a deadline looming later this month, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is finalizing preparations to hire up to 95 new counselors and introduce new educational benchmarks for foster youth in the school district with its first allotment of targeted funds from California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) legislation.
Signed into law in 2013 by California Governor Jerry Brown, LCFF will restore education funding across the state to pre-recession levels. It earmarks increased funding for three categories of high-need students, including foster youth.
Each school district in the state is charged with creating a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) that details how it will use the funds allocated for high-needs students through specific goals, benchmarks and practices.
LAUSD, like other school districts in the state, must submit its LCAP by June 24, with final approval by the Los Angeles County Board of Education slated for June 31.
Challenges Faced by Foster Youth
Foster youth are statistically among the lowest academic achievers, and they suffer from the highest high school dropout rates when compared with their peers, according to the first installment of The Invisible Achievement Gap, a 2013 statewide study that provided data for the first time on the woeful educational outcomes of foster youth.
And the second part of The Invisible Achievement Gap, released last month, found that foster youth in California experience much higher rates of school mobility than other students, with foster students nine times more likely to attend three or more schools during the school year than other students.
Los Angeles Unified has more students in foster care than any other district in the state. Despite its size, efforts to address their dismal educational outcomes have rarely risen to meet the level of need. Currently, LAUSD fields only three counselors that are specifically trained to handle the educational needs of the approximately 8,400 foster youth enrolled in the school district.
In a draft version of its proposed LCAP released last weekend, LAUSD has set aside approximately $9.9 million for the hiring of about 95 additional counselors, who will support foster youth by providing individualized learning plans and academic assessment for foster youth in the district.
“We believe that foster youth should get better access to case management services,” said Erika Torres, director of LAUSD’s Pupil Services division, which will be implementing the district’s LCAP. “They really need somebody monitoring them to make sure that they are receiving the services they need to succeed.”
Tracking Foster Youth in Public Schools
Foster youth also stand to benefit from new coordination between agencies as part of the LCAP process. In the past, LAUSD and many other school districts have had difficulty tracking foster youth in their school systems. But the 2013 passage of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act allows child welfare agencies more direct access to educational information about foster youth.
So far, LAUSD has struck a positive relationship with foster youth advocates, community partners, and other stakeholders. Organized under the aegis of the Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth, advocates have worked to provide LAUSD with best practices for working with foster youth, input on policies related to foster youth and feedback on outcome measures.
The coalition is slated to participate in a training session later this summer that will prepare the new counselors to meet the unique educational needs of foster youth in the district. Overwhelmingly, members of the coalition have lauded the role Torres has played in embracing the expertise of coalition members in working with foster youth in educational settings.
“We’re doing backflips over here,” said Jill Rowland, education program director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “LAUSD has opened so many doors to the community, to experts, and to the people that have had a lot of success working with foster youth.”
The new cohort of foster youth counselors to be hired by LAUSD is expected to remind foster students of their right to stay in the same school despite placement changes and help avoid the pushing out of foster youth into alternative schools due to a lack of credits, but advocates hope that performance measures tied to educational stability are included in the final version of LAUSD’s LCAP.
“When students change schools, their records get all screwed up,” said Martha Matthews, directing attorney of the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel. “You can’t expect to improve educational outcomes for foster youth without tackling school changes.”
Jeremy Loudenback is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.