July 14, 2020

Truly Universal: Overcoming Barriers to School Choice for Youth in Foster Care

By Justin Trinidad | Hailly T.N. Korman

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School choice was intended to expand options and equity, and it holds promise for many students with unique needs. But it is clear that no choice system can be equitable until all students have real access to those choices.

More than 400,000 youth are currently in foster care in the United States, many of whom experience significant obstacles in their lives, ranging from frequent transitions between homecare placements and schools to unmet physical and mental health needs. Youth in foster care experience a number of common obstacles in accessing school choice: lack of transportation to remain in their school of origin, narrow definitions of sibling preference that leave out children in foster care, and insufficient information available to adults in their lives. 

As a result, children in foster care are less likely to participate in their city’s school choice opportunities, including charter schools, magnet schools, online schools, private schools, and in-boundary schools. Many states, cities, and districts have adopted strategies to more equitably provide access to school choice options for youth in foster care. To shed light on what these policies look like in practice, “Truly Universal: Overcoming Barriers to School Choice for Youth in Foster Care” takes a close look at Washington, D.C., Denver, New York City, and Los Angeles, detailing their school choice landscapes and lessons in improving access to school choice for youth in foster care. 

Our paper includes these recommendations for states: 

  • Include foster siblings, including unrelated children in a single foster family, as members of any sibling preference category for charter school lotteries and waitlist policies;
  • Create partnerships between education agencies, departments of health and human services, and departments of child welfare to develop centralized data systems; and
  • Reduce burdens for local governments to access state transportation funding available for youth in foster care. 

Recommendations for cities and local education agencies include: 

  • Ensure all schools, including charter schools, immediately enroll students in foster care up to their building capacity, even if enrollment exceeds their enrollment cap during the school year or if the application or enrollment deadline is passed;
  • Allow any trusted adult in the youth’s life to submit an application to schools of choice; and 
  • Create and provide accessible and comprehensive documents and resources for foster parents so parents and families fully understand the rights and choices for the student in foster care. 

Download the report here or read it in the viewer below:

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