Departments of Education, Health and Human Services Release Guidance on ESSA Provisions for Foster Children Educational Stability

As states implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services have released guidance on mitigating disruption in education for students in foster care; states should implement programs to meet the mandate’s requirements by December 10, 2016.

  • According to the Department of Education letter to chief state school officers and child welfare directors, nearly 270,000 school-age children are in foster care across the United States. Students in foster care are likely to face unique challenges making academic success more difficult to achieve and maintain.
  • A key challenge the non-regulatory guide identifies is unplanned student mobility—students in foster care are more likely than their peers to change schools mid-year. Provisions in ESSA prioritize stability for the student in these cases, which includes keeping them in their schools if it is in their best interests. If a change of school is needed, enrollment at a new school is to be done immediately.
  • State education agencies are expected to coordinate with state welfare agencies to implement policies and procedures across the state. Local education agencies are then expected to work with these state-level agencies to make adjustments where needed and implement by December 10.
  • State welfare agencies are expected to incorporate educational mobility into the child’s case plan. The educational stability plan, which includes collaboration with the child’s parents, within 60 days of the child being placed in foster care.
  • Factors that should be considered in defining what the child’s best interests may include child’s preferences, parental preferences, relationships built with school staff, sibling placement, safety, available services, and impact of the commute.

The requirements of the statute necessitate coordination between agencies—the guidance provided by the Department of Education and the HHS includes “spotlights from the field” highlighting how some of the challenges in implementation, including transportation and dispute resolution, could be handled. The guide itself can be accessed here, and more information about ESSA can be found here.