Rhode Island social workers driving students in foster care to school
- Daniel Heimpel, publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change, writes for The 74 that a situation in Rhode Island demonstrates how it remains unclear to some officials who is ultimately responsible for covering the cost of transportation under the Every Student Succeeds Act's provision that students in foster care remain in their "school of origin" when living arrangements change.
- Currently in some parts of the state, social workers with the state’s foster care agency are driving students to school, even though the Rhode Island Department of Education has said that it’s the school districts’ responsibility to do so.
- Meanwhile, a state senator has introduced a bill that would require that the education agency and the foster care agency share the cost of transportation, a measure that Heimpel writes “takes an important step toward tying up one of ESSA’s loose ends” but locally places additional burdens on social workers who are already stretched too thin.
Research shows that students in foster care are more likely than their peers to fall behind academically and drop out of school. Those working on behalf of these students say the fact that ESSA includes new protections for this population and tries to minimize the disruption they face at home and in school is a major step forward. But they also note that local coordination is necessary to address issues such as transportation, and that it’s especially helpful to have liaisons who understands and can communicate with both educators and social service case workers.
In California, the Los Angeles County Office of Education — which was also struggling to comply with the ESSA requirements — contracted with a ride sharing company, HopSkipDrive — to handle the school transportation needs for students in foster care. Last fall, the Chronicle of Social Change sent requests to every state education department asking if they were in compliance with ESSA’s mandates regarding children in foster care. Of the 44 that responded, 33 states said their districts were in compliance. Four states — Rhode Island, Illinois, Florida and Massachusetts — said the transportation requirement was their biggest challenge, while Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, New York, Minnesota and Missouri responded that they couldn’t verify whether all districts were meeting the requirements.
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