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Public Statements

Uninterrupted Scholars Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. BASS of California. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of S. 3472, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, a bill that will help foster children achieve educational success.

First, I want to thank Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Miller for their support of this bill and their ongoing dedication to improving outcomes for foster youth throughout the Nation. I would also like to extend my sincere appreciation and respect to Senator Landrieu. I am proud to work alongside the Senator, who is a tireless advocate for foster youth and families both domestic and worldwide.

Throughout 2012, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth has traveled the country and visited five States on a nationwide listening tour. We heard from youth, families, and community leaders about the best practices and challenges facing the child welfare system.

In Miami, Florida, at the invitation of Congress Members Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson, we learned about a commonsense, no-cost legislative fix that would have a significant and positive impact on hundreds of thousands of foster children across the country.

After we returned to Washington, I joined my fellow cochairs of the congressional caucus--Representatives MARINO, McDermott, BACHMANN, and a number of other members of the caucus--to introduce the bipartisan Uninterrupted Scholars Act. This bill will address the concerns raised in Florida by providing youth with the support they need to avoid problems like inappropriate course placement and lost credits upon changing schools. Specifically, it will simply allow caseworkers to access transcripts for foster youth while maintaining important privacy protections.

Children in foster care are among the most educationally at-risk of all student populations. Because of the abuse and neglect foster youth have experienced in their young lives, they often face physical and emotional challenges that interfere with their learning and negatively impact their educational outcomes. For example, the average child in foster care goes to three to five high schools.

Existing Federal law requires that child welfare agencies include educational records in their case plan and work with school districts to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for children in foster care. However, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, unintentionally creates a harmful barrier that prevents child welfare caseworkers from being able to quickly access school records necessary to help meet the educational needs of students in foster care. This can lead to significant delays that contribute to inappropriate class placements, enrollment delays, repeated classes, delayed graduation, and even dropouts.

The story of young Jasmine is an example of stories we heard during the listening tour. When Jasmine was placed in foster care on an emergency basis, her mother's whereabouts were unknown and the child welfare agency caseworker was unable to obtain consent from any parent. Without timely access to the child's education records, the caseworker could not evaluate whether it would be in Jasmine's best interest to remain in the same school. Jasmine moved to a new school, which had different graduation requirements. She received no credits for her coursework from the prior school and had to repeat some of the same classes. She fell a full year behind and eventually dropped out of the school.

In my district, the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services is currently responsible for the placement and care of over 15,000 foster youth. The sheer size of this youth population--larger than most States--as well as the 82 different school districts within L.A. County, make it particularly challenging to proactively address student needs without direct access to educational records.

Another example from the listening tour when we were in L.A. is Vanessa, a fifth grader who has a similar story. She was transferred from L.A. Unified to another school district over 50 miles away while relocating to a new foster home. Her records did not follow. Therefore, she was placed in a fourth grade classroom, a full grade level below her actual skill level and age. She consistently cried at meetings with teachers. She eventually advocated for herself and her classes were transferred, but in the meantime she missed 2 months of fifth grade. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act would help avoid situations faced by young Jasmine and Vanessa by allowing child welfare caseworkers, who have the legal responsibility for a foster child's care and welfare, timely access to their educational records.

At the same time, this bill protects and preserves the educational privacy rights of students and parents that we all want to safeguard. In the words of Mary Cagle, the director of Legal Services at the Florida Department of Children and Families, this bill ``fixes an existing conflict in Federal law. It's so simple, so easy, so clear.''

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act is endorsed by dozens of nationwide organizations, including the National Foster Parent Association, the National School Boards Association, the Child Welfare League of America, and many others. Today I stand with my bipartisan, bicameral colleagues in the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to ask for your support, as well.

We have a responsibility to foster youth, children whom we have removed from their parents' care, youth whom we promised to keep safe and help to succeed. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act will help us keep this promise.

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