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California, LA continue to falter on federal foster youth education deadline

Guest contributor | February 10, 2017

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Student near the school bus

By Daniel Heimpel, The Chronicle of Social Change

The California Department of Education “derailed” local education agencies’ efforts to ensure transportation for students in foster care, imperiling a $1.8 billion federal grant aimed at poor students, according to an email shared with The Chronicle and an education administrator in San Diego.

This while Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed a motion memorializing the breach locally, further inhibiting California’s ability to claim that it met a December 2016 deadline written into federal statute and repeated federal guidance.

On the eve of the implementation deadline for mandates around the educational stability of foster youth, Lisa Guillen, the California Department of Education’s (CDE) consultant for foster youth services, sent an email to administrators in San Diego saying that they did not have to respect the Dec. 10, 2016, deadline enshrined in 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act.

“As a point of clarification, there is not a requirement that the plan be finalized by Dec. 10,” Guillen wrote on Dec. 9. “However, there is work that is required beginning now to establish the necessary collaborative practices that will lead to a finalized plan in the near future.”

Michelle Lustig is the director of the Foster Youth Services Program within the San Diego County Office of Education and was on the receiving end of Guillen’s email. Lustig said that she was shocked. She had recently participated in a federal Department of Education webinar reminding local jurisdictions of the December deadline and was busy working with her county’s school districts to comply with the law.

“My point is that she communicated what she communicated and that derailed people across the state, I think,” Lustig said.

While she was unsure about whether or not Guillen had written similar emails to other county offices of education, she said that the “communication did cause some of our school districts to slow down their implementation.”

The email was contrary to a statement Guillen made to The Chronicle just the day before. When asked if she or CDE had ever suggested to county offices of education that the Dec. 10 deadline was not binding, she said: “We have communicated with our County Office of Education partners that the Dec. 10 deadline exists, and we continue to work with our County Office of Education partners to ensure that collaboration is in place.”

While Lustig said that most of San Diego County’s school districts were in compliance, the same cannot be said for nearby Los Angeles County.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a motion that would compel a number of agencies, including the Los Angeles County Office of Education, to “report back” in 60 days on countywide efforts to implement the law. In so doing, the county memorialized that at least some of its 81 school districts had not met the December 2016 deadline.

This, coupled with Guillen’s email, exposes California to discipline by the federal Department of Education. Every Student Succeeds and subsequent guidance made clear that implementing the transportation requirement is a condition of a state’s Title I funding.

Title I is the Department of Education’s largest program with a budget of $14.9 billion, and California is its largest recipient at $1.8 billion this fiscal year. The funds are intended to supplement spending on the poorest students. Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, receives roughly $345 million, which comes out to $1,552 per poor student annually, according to U.S. News and World Report.

San Diego County’s Lustig was dismayed that California was failing to comply with Every Student Succeeds. She pointed out that the state had long been a leader on the education of foster youth, having implemented policies years ago that were finally made part of the federal law.

For example, Every Student Succeeds mandates immediate enrollment of foster youth in a new school, and immediate transfer of school records, which are issues that have long been attended to in the Golden State.

“The rest of the country has had to come up with compliance on all those school provisions,” Lustig said. “All we had to do was the transportation piece. This was our heavy lift, so it was our responsibility to do it well.”

Calls to the federal Department of Education regarding penalties for non-compliance were not immediately returned.

• Read more from The Chronicle of Social Change: 

L.A.’s Failure to Implement Foster Care Mandates Could Cost California $1.8 Billion in Federal Education Funds

California Fails to Comply with Federal Law Aimed at Improving Foster Youth’s Educational Stability

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