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New California Laws Enhance Foster Youths’ Educational Stability

Elementary SchoolYouth in foster care face significant hardships when bounced from placement to placement and school to school. California AB 490, which NCYL was instrumental in shaping and implementing, granted comprehensive educational rights to foster youth. Building on AB 490, passed in 2003, the California Legislature in 2010 passed two key laws designed to improve the educational stability and overall outcomes of youth in the state’s foster care system.

Frequent school transfers can lead to inappropriate placements, delays in enrollment, and loss of credits. School transfers may also result in educational disruptions that reduce foster youths’ ability to connect with teachers, mentors, and peers, and force them to forego participation in extracurricular activities. As a result, many foster youth suffer academically and are unable to be part of a community that supports them and nurtures their academic and personal growth.

AB 490 addressed these problems by promoting school stability, timely school transfers, and greater cross-district acceptance of partial school credits. The two new bills, AB 1933 and SB 1353, go further, by increasing the chances that foster youth eventually graduate with their peers and by requiring greater consideration of foster youths’ educational stability when making placement decisions.

Assembly Bill 1933: Permitting Students to Remain in Their School of Origin

Assembly Bill 1933, signed into law on September 10, 2010, seeks to improve educational stability for foster youth by expanding their right to remain in their school of origin despite changes in foster placement. AB 1933 seeks both to minimize the number of school transfers foster youth are forced to undergo as a result of placement moves and to reduce the disruption transfers cause. School transfers typically have negative consequences for students, including a loss of school credits, a delay in earning a high school diploma, and a loss of social stability and support.

AB 1933 addresses these issues by amending AB 490, which already required local education agencies to permit a student to remain in his or her school of origin for the duration of the school year if it’s in the youth’s best interests. AB 1933 extends this right by allowing a foster youth to remain in his or her school of origin and/or school system for as long as the youth is in foster care, or until the end of the school year if the child leaves foster care mid-year. The youth retains this right even after changing grade levels or moving out of the school area or district.

“School of origin” is defined as one of the following: the school the foster youth attended when he or she was permanently housed; the school in which the youth was last enrolled while in foster care; or the school the youth has attended in the last 15 months and is most closely connected to. An educational liaison, appointed by the school district to help foster children with school transfers, must ensure that the foster youth is allowed to attend his or her school of origin and must help the youth’s educational rights holder determine whether attending a school other than the school of origin is in the youth’s best interests. If a dispute arises, the youth has the right to remain in the school of origin pending resolution of the dispute. The cost of transportation to the school of origin is an allowable foster care maintenance cost that must be reimbursed to the foster parents or caregivers by the social services agency. Alternatively, the school district may provide transportation services.

Senate Bill 1353: Considering Effects of School Transfers When Making Placement Decisions

Senate Bill 1353, also signed into law on September 10, 2010, requires greater consideration of a foster youth’s educational stability when making placement decisions. The bill requires adults involved in making placement and school transfer decisions on behalf of foster youth to make a diligent effort to avoid transferring students during the school year. It encourages consideration of the long-term consequences of multiple school transfers during a school year, and requires that each placement decision take into account educational stability as well as the youth’s opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive educational setting necessary to achieve academic progress.

Together, AB 1933 and SB 1353 strengthen the educational rights afforded to foster youth under AB 490. The new laws increase the likelihood that foster youth will graduate with their peers and require adults making placement decisions to consider the negative impact school transfers can have on foster youth. The legislation will likely improve the educational stability of foster youth and lead to better outcomes.

NCYL works to improve the educational opportunities for foster youth through several projects and initiatives, including the FosterEd Initiative and the Education Advocacy Project.

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