The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) plans to hold an executive hearing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act on Tuesday, October 18. In advance of this hearing a draft bill has been posted on the committee website. The much anticipated bill is intended to reflect prolonged negotiations for a bi-partisan approach.
In regards to child welfare, the bill remains silent on the role of Local Education Agencies (LEA) in ensuring educational stability for children in foster care, which the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (Fostering Connections, P.L. 110-351) made obligatory. Fostering Connections requires state child welfare agencies to improve educational stability for children in care by coordinating with local education agencies to ensure that children remain in the school they are enrolled in at the time of placement into foster care, unless that would not be in the child’s best interests. If remaining in the same school is not in the child’s best interest, the state must ensure immediate enrollment in a new school with all of the educational records of the child provided to that new school. A complementary provision in ESEA would better enable states to fulfill this requirement by directly outlining the role of education officials.
Title X of the new ESEA bill reauthorizes the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act (McKinney-Vento, P.L. 100-77). It maintains the current definition of homeless children, including a reference to “children awaiting foster care placement.” Because this definition does not capture an identifiable population of children served by the child welfare system, it has not worked to extend McKinney-Vento provisions to children in care in all states. However, the bill does update McKinney-Vento educational stability provisions, describing in more detail processes required of the LEAs.
Educational stability is also addressed in Title I, Part D discretionary grants funding state prevention and intervention for at-risk students. The bill modifies the definition of an at-risk student to include students who have “been determined to have been neglected in the past.” While this definition is not totally clear, it may provide an opportunity for some grant funding to improve educational outcomes for children in congregant care.
It is also important to note that the bill would authorize both Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods into law. These are incentive fund programs that received appropriations under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, P.L. 111-5) stimulus bill.
The ESEA/No Child Left Behind Act was due for reauthorization four years ago, but legislators have struggled to negotiate a bi-partisan approach. Recently, the administration discussed using waiver authority to enact education reforms that they do not believe can wait. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Workforce has divided the legislation into smaller bills that have passed as separate reform measures.