NEW YORK, February 6, 2012 — California’s Governor Jerry Brown is floating a new proposal to fold funding for students in foster care into a general student fund.
Foster care advocates warn that if adopted, this measure could disrupt a successful program, jeopardizing educational success for these students.
The program called Foster Youth Services (FYS) was launched in California in 1981 to address the unique educational needs of foster kids. Foster children have different educational needs than other children for a host of reasons, driven by the fact that they have frequent changes in circumstances, homes and schools.
The FYS program has kept graduation rates and grades up among foster care youth.
“Foster youth services and its coordinators have been very important in ensuring that forward thinking state policy is used to help students in foster care,” explains Daniel Heimpel, project director at Fostering Media Connections, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to public and media awareness about issues related to youth in foster care. “If that were to go it would erode three decades of progress.”
Governor Brown’s budget calls for funding for the FYS program to be folded into a new “weighted student formula” along with other educational categories such as physical education, arts ed., and pre-K programs. Individual school districts would have full discretion to distribute the funds based on local needs.
In many cases, this might work very well. However, not in all cases. The fear is that foster kids could be left out of the equation when allotting funds since their numbers and residencies are so difficult to track and districts aren’t always aware of their own populations, which can change frequently.
Many individuals and foster care advocacy organizations are arguing that governments should keep funding as a category like special ed to avoid diluting its effects. The money then would directly target those students who the funds are intended for.
The state’s responsibility to foster care youth is unique in that they have been removed from their homes by the state with the pledge that they will be cared for by the state while in the foster care system.
While California has been a model for much of the country in terms of its success with foster care youth, particularly in terms of education, if adopted, Brown’s proposed measure could roll back that success. It could also have implications for foster care youth across the country. “Right now there exists a huge swell of national momentum towards increased educational success for students in foster care,” says Heimpel. “Any abatement would hurt that overall momentum.”
The first hearing on this Brown’s proposal will take place on February 16 in Sacramento.
“California advocates are working to educate the Governor and the legislators about the importance of the FYS program, the unique needs of these students and our unique responsibilities to them,” says Susanna Kniffen, senior associate for education policy atChildren Now, a child welfare orgainzation in Sacramento.
Andrea is an adoptive mother and a journalist. She is at work on a book, “The Red Thread,” a collection of stories told by families united through adoption. She is also owner of Media Branding International, a public relations/media consulting firm. She is the editor of Food & Travel in The Communities at The Washington Times.
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