Transportation Procedures to Maintain Educational Stability
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) views collaboration as the cornerstone of effectively ensuring the educational stability of the child in out-of-home care. This includes collaboration in determining the best interest of the child and how any needed transportation will be provided, arranged, and funded. It cannot be overemphasized that educational stability for the child is a shared responsibility between the local education agency (LEA) and the child welfare agency. The Federal Guidance issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services recommends that all available funds, including applicable federal funds, be brought to the table.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (Fostering Connections Act) made reasonable transportation to the school of origin an allowable use of foster care maintenance payments (sometimes called Title IV-E payments), which are federal payments made for eligible children properly placed in out-of-home care. School of origin transportation is also an allowable administrative cost under Title IV-E. ESSA specifically mentions the availability and use of these funds and related state funds.
ESSA speaks to the sharing of costs that are “additional” and which result from the child residing in one school district (i.e. school of residence) and attending school in another district (i.e., school of origin, which is the school in which the child was enrolled or was last enrolled at the time of placement into out-of-home care). The Federal Guidance defines “additional costs” in the following manner:
Additional costs incurred in providing transportation to the school of origin should reflect the difference between what an LEA otherwise would spend to transport a student to his or her assigned school and the cost of transporting a child in foster care to his or her school of origin. For example, if the LEA provides transportation through an established bus route, there is no additional cost. If the LEA provides transportation only for the child in foster care (e.g., through a private vehicle or transportation company), the difference between the transportation costs and the usual transportation costs can be considered additional.
It should be noted that, under ESSA, an LEA must provide transportation to children in out-of-home care even if the LEA does not otherwise offer transportation to students. The fact that an LEA does not provide transportation to children who are not in out-of-home care does not exempt the LEA from obligations to ensure transportation for children in out-of-home care. This includes children in out-of-home care attending public preschools.
The cost of transportation may not be a factor in determining best interest. Once the educational placement decision (remaining in the school of origin or enrolling in the school of residence) has been made, the appropriate transportation must begin immediately. The law indicates that the transportation should be provided in a cost-effective manner, and there are various, creative ways that this could occur:
- By foster parents (through the foster care payment).
- By group home staff as an Extraordinary Payment.
- By volunteers as individuals or through social organizations.
- Existing public school bus routes (including, for example, a foster parent driving the child to meet a bus for the school of origin along the existing route).
- Public transportation (based on safety, disability, age, etc.).
- Taxis or other private transportation services (based on safety, disability, age, etc.; perhaps with a reduced-cost service contract).
- Walking within a reasonable walk zone (based on safety, disability, age, etc.).
While the development and implementation of transportation procedures are the responsibilities of the LEA and the local child welfare agency, the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Children and Families recommend that if the LEA and the child welfare agency cannot come to an agreement, the additional cost for transportation should be shared equally. The LEA and local child welfare agency could share the additional costs based on:
- an agreed-upon distance (e.g., the LEA(s) pays for transportation costs up to a certain number of miles and the child welfare agency pays the remaining transportation costs);
- the length of time the child requires transportation (e.g., the LEA(s) pays transportation costs for the first six months of a child’s placement, and the child welfare agency pays for transportation costs beyond six months of a child’s placement);
- a split of daily costs/responsibility (e.g., the LEA(s) is responsible for getting the child to school and the child welfare agency is responsible for managing after-school transportation); or
- other arrangement agreed to by the involved entities.
It is recognized that there are 72 counties, 422 local education agencies, and 11 federally-recognized Indian tribes within the State of Wisconsin, so as much uniformity as possible in written transportation policies would be the prudent approach.
Once a transportation plan is in place, it is critical that there be good and timely communication between the agencies regarding case activity that could impact the transportation plan on both a short-term and a long-term basis. This would include such events as a change in educational decision-making authority, changes in placement, changes in caseworker, children needing to miss school for court-related and other reasons, and other logistical issues involved in providing transportation. LEAs and child welfare agencies may wish to develop MOUs to establish procedures for such information sharing.