August 2, 2016

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AASA and 14 National Education and Homeless Groups Send Letter to ED re ESSA Foster Care Provisions

Last week, AASA along with 14 other national education and homeless organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education expressing grave concerns with the proposed ESSA regulation on transporting students in foster care. The letter states that ED's regulation contradicts ESSA’s statutory language by requiring LEAs to provide transportation when the agencies cannot agree on payment, and would have the effect of shifting the entire cost of transportation to LEAs unilaterally. The proposed rule also undermines and defeats ESSA’s requirement that LEAs and child welfare agencies develop transportation procedures collaboratively. It removes any incentive for child welfare agencies to collaborate or contribute to costs by creating a default position that permits, and even encourages, child welfare agencies to avoid costs simply by failing to come to an agreement. The proposed rule would harm children in foster care, by removing incentives for child welfare agencies to place students near their schools of origin, so students can maintain connections to their community. Such a policy ultimately relieves child welfare agencies of their statutory requirements related to ensuring educational stability for children in foster care, and discourages the allowable use of Title IV-E funds to support school of origin transportation.

If school districts are required to pay the costs of transporting children in foster care to their schools of origin, the resulting expense will limit the ability of school districts to provide transportation and related services to other students, including homeless students. Although both school districts and child welfare agencies have limited budgets, it would be inappropriate for school districts to be required to cover the cost of decisions made by another agency. This is especially true in light of the fact that school districts are currently struggling to meet the transportation needs of homeless children and youth. Public schools have witnessed a 100% increase in the number of homeless children and youth since the 2006-2007 school year. McKinney-Vento funds are extremely limited, reaching less than one in four districts and, even in those districts, not meeting needs. As a result, the swelling cost of transportation for homeless children and youth is paid almost entirely from local school district budgets. 

We were pleased to work with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth in drafting and disseminating this letter and are grateful that our colleagues from ASBO, AESA, CASE, NREAC and NSBA could join us on this important letter.