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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: January 15, 2016 04:22 PM
From: Representative Harry Lewis, Jr.
To: All House members
Subject: School Stability for Children in Foster Care

Dear colleagues,

I will soon introduce legislation to amend the Public School Code in order to improve educational stability for children who are in foster care or who are homeless by allowing them to remain enrolled in the same school whenever possible and when it is in their best interest following a change in out-of-home placement.

My legislation provides clear guidance to school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education as to their responsibilities and their required collaboration with child welfare agencies and the courts to promote and achieve school stability for these children. Without these amendments to the Public School Code, school districts lack the clear mandate and guidance for making the best educational arrangements for children in foster care.

The fact is, school districts must be equal partners with child welfare agencies and the courts in order for school stability to become a reality.

To that end, it should be noted that my legislation is part of a three-bill package being introduced in the House. The other two bills, sponsored by my colleague on the House Children and Youth Committee, Rep. Tarah Toohil, amend the Juvenile Act (Title 42) and the Human Services Code (formerly Public Welfare Code) respectively to achieve this same objective.

The lives of children in foster care are unsettled to begin with, filled with uncertainty and disruption. They are living in unfamiliar settings, away from their natural parents and siblings. A third of these children experience three or more living placements within their first two years in foster care. They often have few personal possessions. They face anxiety about the future. Often times, going to school and being with the same teachers and classmates provides the only semblance of continuity in their lives.

Yet a change in living placement often means having to attend a new school. Research shows that one of the most significant barriers to educational success is repeatedly changing schools. It is estimated that students lose four to six months of educational progress each time they change schools. When students in foster care change schools they may miss days of school or are placed in the wrong classes waiting for school records to be sent to the new school. Many times their credits do not transfer, they have to repeat courses or entire grades and many will become frustrated and drop out of school completely.

More often than not, children and youth in foster care are in educational crisis. It is well-documented that they experience lower academic achievement, lower standardized test scores, and higher dropout rates than their non-foster care peers.

My legislation intends to remedy this unfortunate reality. Some key provisions contained in this bill include:

  • No school district shall refuse to retain an eligible child in his or her current school if that is in the child’s best interest. And no school district shall refuse to enroll an eligible child in a new school if that is absolutely necessary.

  • Proper transportation required for school stability shall be immediately provided to the student, coordinated by the school district in which the student is enrolled and by the county Children and Youth agency. In the case of homeless children or those awaiting foster placement, the school district provides and pays for the transportation. In the case of children in foster care, the county Children and Youth agency generally shall provide and pay for the transportation, unless the school district can provide the transportation at a negligible cost.

  • If continued enrollment in the school of origin is not in the child’s best interest, then the child shall be immediately enrolled in a new school whether or not the required documents for enrollment can be immediately provided. The former district must provide the student’s records within 10 days of enrollment in the new school.

  • Credits earned in the former school shall be accepted by the new school.

  • Each student who experiences an educational disruption shall be assigned a point of contact at the new school (i.e. a school counselor, teacher, administrator) who shall assist in the student’s transition.

  • Students who meet state standards, but who are unable to satisfy school district graduation requirements, shall be eligible to receive a state-issued diploma.

I hope you will join me in supporting this important legislation that intends to minimize the educational disruption experienced by children in foster care. If you should have any questions, please contact Joni Mitchell in my Harrisburg office 717-787-1806

Introduced as HB1828