The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) emphasizes educational stability for students in out-of-home care (foster care) to ensure positive educational outcomes for this vulnerable population. Under ESSA, this goal is accomplished through collaboration between schools and child welfare agencies.
Children in out-of-home care experience significant and debilitating changes in virtually all aspects of their lives, including housing, with whom they live, with whom they are friends, the location of their homes, and the nature of their daily lives. The purpose of recent federal and state statutory changes is to create some level of stability in terms of their educational experiences and success.
- 44 percent of Wisconsin children in out-of-home care attended more than one school in a single year.
- Only 57 percent of Wisconsin children in care will graduate high school (compared to 88 percent for all children).
- During the 2013-14 school year, the average attendance rate for Wisconsin children in care was 86 percent while for all children it was 94 percent.
- Nationally, 56 percent - 75 percent of children in out-of-home care will change schools when they first enter out-of-home care.
- Nationally, approximately one-third (34 percent) of 17-18 year olds in care have experienced five or more school changes.
- Students lose four to six months of academic progress with each school change.
- Nationally, children in out-of-home care are two times as likely as other students to have an out-of-school suspension and are three times as likely to be expelled.
- Nationally, children in out-of-home care are two-and-a-half times to three-and-a-half times times more likely to receive special education services.
- Nationally, 84 percent of children in out-of-home care want to go to college, but only 20 percent of them who graduate from high school will attend college, and only two to nine percent will attain a bachelor’s degree.
When a child is placed into out-of-home care, it is presumed to be in the child’s best interest to remain enrolled in the school in which the child was enrolled or was most recently enrolled at the time of that placement. The school district and the local child welfare agency must conduct a best interest assessment to determine whether it might be in the child’s best interest to be enrolled in the school nearest to the out-of-home care placement. This is to be a collaborative process. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) have issued suggested guidance in terms of the factors that should be considered in conducting such an assessment.
Each school district must develop and implement clear written procedures for the manner in which transportation to maintain children in out-of-home care in their school of origin will be provided, arranged, and funded for the entire time the student is in out-of-home care. This should be done collaboratively with the local child welfare agency. The procedures must indicate: a) how transportation will be provided and funded by the school district and the child welfare agency; and b) how the transportation will be provided and funded while any disputes between the agencies are being resolved.
4. Immediate Enrollment and Request for Records
If the result of the best interest assessment is that it would be in the child’s best interest to enroll in the resident school (i.e., the school attendance area in which the child resides), then the resident school must immediately enroll the child even if it does not possess all of the records and other documentation normally required for enrollment purposes. The school in which the child is enrolled (resident school) must immediately request the transfer of all academic and other records and any other appropriate documents from the school of origin.