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Districts Accountable for Foster Youth in New Calif. Funding Scheme

Under California's new funding formula for K-12, schools and districts will be held accountable for the academic progress of students who are in foster care.

In one of the many changes wrought by California's new Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, schools and districts that enroll 15 or more foster children will be judged on how well they are doing at educating this vulnerable group of students.

California, say the advocates who pushed for the change, is the first state to hold districts and schools accountable for the academic achievement of students who are in foster care. They are optimistic that other states may follow suit.

Under the new LCFF—which provides districts with more funding for low-income students, English-language learners, and foster children—the academic performance of students in foster care will be reported as a separate subgroup under the state's Academic Performance Index, or API. The index measures how well schools perform overall, but also tracks the traditional NCLB subgroups: ethnic/racial categories, low-income, students with disabilities, and English-learners.

Advocates for students in foster care said the new accountability is a game changer for an often hidden population in schools. In California, school staff may not even know they have foster children enrolled because there is no formal process for reporting that status to schools. That will also change under the new funding/accountability arrangement.

"The educational outcomes for foster youth are significantly worse than they are for other groups of students, including low income," said Jesse Hahnel, the executive director of FosterEd, an initiative of the National Youth Law Center. "These students have a very unique set of needs that need to be met. Providing the same supports that you give to low income students generally won't cut it."

As part of their duty to track and support foster youth, schools and districts will have to develop annual performance goals, action plans, and budgets for such students, Hahnel said.

The K-12 foster youth population in California—roughly 42,000—is tiny compared to the overall K-12 enrollment of more than 6 million. But they tend to be concentrated in certain regions. In Los Angeles County, for example, there are an estimated 17,000 foster youth, Hahnel said.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, were the main champions of the foster youth accountability change.

With California breaking the ice, Hahnel is optmistic other states may follow suit. He also said his advocacy group hopes to partner more closely with educators to bring attention and support to students in foster care, a task he says has been a major challenge so far.

"Nationally, as we do this work, the hardest institutions to get to the table are school districts," Hahnel said. "We think this is the first time that school districts will have to really engage around this unique group of students."

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