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Testimony on HB 462 – Educational Stability of Foster Kids in Ohio

OPLC attorney Sarah Biehl presented the below testimony in support of HB 462 to the Ohio House Education Committee on April 18, 2012.  To find out more about HB 462, including text of the bill, amendments, and Legislative Services Commission analysis, click here.

House Bill 462 is an Important First Step Toward Preserving Educational Stability for Children Involved in the Child Welfare System

Sarah Biehl

Staff Attorney

Ohio Poverty Law Center

Chairman Stebelton, Vice Chair Newbold, Ranking Member Luckie, and members of the House Education Committee, thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak to you today in support of House Bill 462.  I am an attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center, a statewide poverty law organization that works to expand, protect, and enforce the legal rights of low-income Ohioans.  I focus on education law and children’s rights, and have a particular interest in this legislation because I have been concerned for some time about the lack of educational stability children in Ohio’s child welfare system experience.

House Bill 462 is an important first step toward helping to preserve educational stability for kids who are subject of abuse, neglect, or dependency complaints in juvenile courts.  These are children who, through no fault of their own, are pulled out of school and often NOT placed in a new school – often for very long periods of time.  I work directly with legal aid attorneys across the state who represent children who are involved in the child welfare system, and they have told me stories of clients who sit out of school, doing nothing, often for weeks, while they wait for Children’s Services, school districts, and other stakeholders to fight out who is responsible for educating the child and to take care of enrolling the child in school.  One attorney in Cincinnati told me that one of the school districts in her region had refused to enroll her client, a foster child in high school, because he had failed to return two textbooks at his previous school.  He was removed from his home under emergency circumstances, and of course no longer had access to the books.  An attorney in Columbus recently told me that one of her clients, a foster child, had been sitting at his foster home, doing nothing, for six weeks because of confusion regarding his special education records and failure to resolve unpaid fees.

Children who are subject to abuse, neglect, or dependency complaints usually come from less-than-ideal home situations.  Many are dealing with abuse, violence, and poverty.  Many have disabilities and special education needs.  Many have already been having trouble in school due to these problems, which makes sense given the enormity of what these kids face on a daily basis.  Changing schools and missing a large amount of school only exacerbates everything else:  research shows that each change in school placement for a child results in a loss of up to six months of academic progress.[1]  Excessive school absences harm children’s academic progress.[2]  Foster children are particularly at risk.  A recent study showed that more than one third of foster kids in the Midwest have repeated a grade.[3]  Nearly half do not complete high school.[4]  These are not, for the most part, kids who can sit out of school for a few weeks and catch up quickly and easily when they return.

The first choice should be to keep foster children in their home schools, with no or very minimal interruption to their school attendance and support to help them maintain academic progress.  In some situations, however, school placement changes are necessary.  When they are, the Ohio Poverty Law Center believes that kids should be enrolled in their new schools as quickly as possible.  This is where House Bill 462 will help.  House Bill 462 will prevent schools from withholding a child’s education records regardless of whether that child’s parents owe fees to the school.  House Bill 462 would directly address both of the examples I mentioned, where children were denied enrollment in school because of lost textbooks or confusion about whether records should be transferred.  This would be a huge step forward for foster kids, and would put Ohio on the path toward ensuring educational stability for children in the child welfare system.

Of course, the Ohio Poverty Law Center supports provisions already existing in the Ohio Revised Code that prevent schools from charging fees to low-income children who qualify for free school lunches.  In the case of children in abuse, neglect, or dependency situations, however, it is not always feasible to check their eligibility for a fee waiver.  House Bill 462 helps ensure that children who are involved in the child welfare system will be able to transfer school records without delay.

In the future, it would be wonderful to see the legislature take the next steps toward educational stability for children in the child welfare system and guarantee all foster children the right to immediate enrollment in school, akin to the rights guaranteed to homeless children under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  But, in the meantime, House Bill 462 takes an important first step toward addressing an issue crucial to the educational success of Ohio’s most vulnerable children.

Thus, the Ohio Poverty Law Center urges you to vote in favor of House Bill 462.

[1] Temple, J. A., and Reynolds, A. J.  “School mobility and achievement: Longitudinal results from an urban cohort.” Journal of School Psychology 37.4 (1999): 355-377.

[2] Chang, Hedy; Romero, Mariajose, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, National Center for Children in Poverty (September 2008).

[3] Mark E. Courtney et al., Chapin Hall Center for Child, University of Chicago, Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Conditions of Youth Preparing to Leave State Care, at (last visited 4/17/2012).

[4] Ronna Cook et al., Westat Inc., A National Evaluation of the Title IV-E Foster Care Independent Living Programs for Youth: Phase 2 Final Report, at (last visited 4/17/2012).

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