Thursday, October 20, 2011

School Choice is the Education Reform Foster Kids Need

U.S. Sen. Mary Landreau (D-LA) was one of the legislators
involved in yesterday's town hall meeting to help foster care children.
In a town hall meeting yesterday in Florida, lawmakers sought to help foster care children excel academically by looking at a variety of education and welfare reforms. Among their considerations were ways to improve communication between federal agencies, state agencies, and local school districts. A laudable goal, certainly, but one that leaves out an important component of foster care that could pay lasting dividends, too.

The participating leaders failed to mention school choice as a viable option for children in the foster care system.

Children in foster care frequently change schools and living situations and often fall behind academically.  According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, 25 percent of foster care children do not receive a high school diploma or GED after they age out of foster care.

That's worse than or equivalent to students in a large number of our country's struggling school districts, many of which are in the midst of having a conversation about school choice. If it can be applied to students in the public school system, kids in the foster system should have a shot at better opportunities, too.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landreau (D-LA), who participated in yesterday's town hall online from Washington, D.C., spoke about why there continue to be so many hardships facing foster kids:
It's not because they don't want to work hard, it's because if you had to move four times in elementary school and five times in high school you might fall behind as well. It's emotionally very difficult.
The Fostering Connections Act, bipartisan legislation that passed thanks to Landreau and others in 2008, requires that children remain in their district school when placed in foster care. But the law does not have any penalties for those who ignore the requirements—and there is no federal funding for transportation costs. And the AP reports that many education officials ignore or violate the provision, so foster care children can change schools several times over their academic careers.

But what education and elected officials should know is that school choice programs not only cover the cost of tuition at private schools, but often pay for or provide transportation for participating students. They could provide kids with the legal means to get the options they deserve, and they wouldn't be stretched financially doing so.

In Arizona, Lexie’s Law, a scholarship tax credit program, is the only school choice program in the country that provides scholarships to foster care students. The program allows corporations to donate to School Tuition Organizations in return for a tax credit. Those organizations then provide scholarships to disabled children and children in foster care. Last year, 145 students participated in the program.

Let’s hope more states follow Arizona’s initiatives and help the hundreds of thousands of foster care students around the country have educational stability and reach their full potential!

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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