Implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Foster Care Provisions
|To:||Superintendents; Charter School Leaders; School Principals; Homeless Education Liaisons; and Foster Care Points of Contact|
|From:||Rachelle Engler Bennett, Associate Commissioner, Student and Family Support|
|Date:||February 2, 2017|
The purpose of this guidance is to assist school districts in implementing and ensuring educational access and stability for children in foster care as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Many children in foster care frequently change schools - when they first enter foster care, when they move from one foster care living arrangement to another, or when they return home. Furthermore, when compared with their peers, they generally experience higher rates of school suspensions and expulsions, lower standardized test scores in reading and math, higher rates of grade retention and drop-out, and far lower high school and college graduation rates. For these reasons and more, ESSA contains new provisions to promote educational stability and success for students in foster care, which are now in effect.
In order to accommodate the need for extensive collaboration between agencies and to establish appropriate logistics and funding, implementation of these provisions will take place over the remainder of this school year. The goal is for full implementation to be in effect for the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Children Awaiting Foster Care
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) has determined that it is in the best interest of children in the care or custody of the state and who meet the definition of awaiting foster care (a temporary placement not to exceed 90 days) to continue to be covered as homeless students for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year. As such, transportation for these students will be a shared homeless transportation cost reimbursable through the state's funding for homeless students. Please note that reimbursements to districts are made in the year following the year in which the costs are incurred. Update: Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, children "awaiting foster care" should now be considered children in foster care, and should be covered by the ESSA provisions described below.
Children in Foster Care
Children in the care or custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF)
that do not meet the definition of awaiting foster care, are now covered by the new ESSA provisions as required by Title I Part A. Here is what districts need to do:
- Assign a foster care point of contact (POC) for the district who will work with DCF to ensure educational stability for students who are placed in foster care. The district's Directory Administrator2 must identify the POC through the district's profile.
- The presumption is that it is in the student's best interest to remain enrolled in the same school the student is attending (school of origin) when living placements change. This is consistent with long-standing DCF practice. Students who remain enrolled in their schools of origin must be provided transportation. For children in foster care, transportation is an allowable expense under Title 1, Part A.
- If it is determined not to be in the student's best interest to remain in the school of origin, a student in foster care must be immediately enrolled in the new school, even if the student doesn't have the documentation normally required for enrollment, and a school to school transfer of records must be initiated, as appropriate.
Definition of Foster Care
The U.S. Department of Education has defined "foster care" as 24 hour substitute care for which the state's child welfare agency (DCF in Massachusetts) is responsible,3 including children and youth that DCF has placed in:
- Foster family homes, kinship placements, pre-adoptive homes; or
- Residential facilities, child care institutions, or group homes.
District Foster Care Point of Contact (POC) Responsibilities
The role of the district Foster Care POC includes, but is not limited to;
- Coordinate with DCF on the implementation of the ESSA provisions;
- Facilitate immediate enrollment and the transfer of records;
- Follow local transportation procedures;
- Facilitate best interest determinations and transportation costs disputes; and
- Provide professional development and training to school staff on the ESSA provisions and educational needs of children in foster care.
The Department and DCF are developing more detailed guidance which will include procedures to identify students who are in foster care; to make best interest determinations; and to address transportation responsibilities and logistics.
We recognize that this new transportation requirement will place a burden on many districts. In the short term, we encourage districts to work cooperatively to identify the most efficient means of providing this transportation, either directly or through your education collaboratives. For the longer term, we are committed to working with districts to examine how they can most effectively meet the variety of out-of-district transportation requirements they face, including students in foster care, homeless students, students attending private special education schools, and students attending out-of-district vocational programs. The growing cost of providing these specialized transportation services means that we need to explore the widest possible range of delivery methods to identify the most efficient and sustainable means of meeting that challenge.
The Department is here to support districts and students during this transition and appreciates the efforts of all involved. If you have questions or concerns please contact one of the Department's foster care contacts.
2 Directory Administrator
3 Non-Regulatory Guidance: Ensuring Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care, USED and USHHS, June 23, 2016. Page 6