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May 2020Vol. 21, No. 4Online Clearinghouse to Promote Educational Stability for Students in Foster Care

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study recommends that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) develop an online clearinghouse that allows states to share information on how they are improving educational stability for children in foster care. The GAO study examined challenges implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 and how ED is providing technical assistance and monitoring state implementation efforts.

ESSA includes provisions to improve educational stability for students in foster care, such as requiring states to ensure students entering out-of-home care would be allowed to remain in their existing schools (provided this is in their best interests). For youth in foster care, maintaining connections can boost opportunities for academic success, and changing schools can mean a loss of friendships, mentors, and community that can result in repeated classes or grade levels. Keeping youth in foster care in their neighborhood schools requires state and local officials to assess and solve any transportation-related issues so students can attend their existing schools.

The GAO report, Education Could Help States Improve Educational Stability for Youth in Foster Care (PDF - 2,140 KB), found that state educational agencies (SEAs) reported several implementation challenges, including high turnover in their education and child welfare officials and issues related to identifying and arranging transportation to school for students. State and local officials reported in interviews that staff turnovers resulted in a loss of knowledge and experience needed to implement the ESSA provisions. Some officials also stated that funding was a barrier to securing transportation to a student's existing school and that associated costs were significant.

GAO found that SEA officials would appreciate additional technical assistance and an opportunity to interact with other states. They suggested that an online clearinghouse would be "extremely helpful" so that education officials could learn from their peers. GAO found that ED had outdated email lists for communicating with state officials and that it lacked a coordinated library to house resources on educational stability in one place.

GAO suggested the ED Secretary develop a clearinghouse of documents from states and localities that choose to share them, with links to relevant resources for all to access. ED has committed to doing so, and its Office of Elementary and Secondary Education is restructuring its website with a new webpage on all foster care-related information. According to GAO, this office is developing a virtual portal that will allow SEA to foster points of contact to collaborate and share information.