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Our Weekly - Closing the achievement gap for foster youth

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Date:
Location: Miami, FL

By Karen Bass

Even under the best circumstances African American students often have challenges resulting in lower graduation rates and test scores than their White counterparts. When you factor in a child in the foster care system, in particular an African American child, the statistics become even worse.

According to a recent study by the Stuart Foundation, which analyzes education outcomes of foster youth in four California counties, African American and Latino students in foster care are roughly 50 percent less likely to be proficient in math and English compared to their White counterparts in the child welfare system.

With graduation rates of Black students in California more than 6 percentage points below their Caucasian counterparts, there is a critical need to address these disparities to give African American foster youth the tools they need to succeed.

This is why I'm honored to have President Barack Obama sign legislation that will provide greater opportunity for foster youth who are often the most at risk and overlooked of all student populations.

The Uninterrupted Scholars Act is the first major piece of legislation passed through the House of Representatives with the advocacy of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which I founded and co-chaired to focus on developing legislation to bring transformative change to the nation's foster care system.

We worked in a bipartisan fashion with our colleagues in the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth to move this legislation through the Congress, proving that in deeply partisan times in Washington Democrats and Republicans can come together to do the right thing for our children.

This is much-needed legislation because, as we all know, poor academic results can lead youth down a very dangerous path. Even for those who remain out of trouble but still aren't excelling academically, these disparities can lock them out of opportunities to pursue higher education and training.

The Stuart Foundation study also found that financial aid is the single most important factor that determines if foster youth pursue a college degree. Therefore, due to Black foster youth students' low test scores, they are far less likely to further their education and increase their opportunities for achievement after high school.

The current law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), unintentionally hinders the educational success of students in foster care by creating an unnecessary barrier between school records and child welfare agencies. Without access to a student's records, child welfare agencies and social workers are limited in their ability to ensure that the children in their care are enrolled in school in a timely fashion, are taking the appropriate courses, and properly gauge the student's academic level and proficiency.

With the numbers of African American foster youth teetering near 40 percent in some South Los Angeles high schools, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act can have an extremely positive impact on improving the education and graduation rates of Black students by allowing child welfare agencies access to school records so they can better address the educational needs of youth in their care.

While this legislation may seem like common sense, unfortunately that was not the case. During a nationwide listening tour through the foster youth caucus, including a stop here in Los Angeles, I learned firsthand how bureaucratic red tape prevented so many foster youth from receiving a quality education.
We took this information back to Washington and developed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act to help cut that red tape and place the needs of students first.

Education, no matter its form, is the key to unlocking nearly any door that stands in the way of a great opportunity. With a proper education, youth in our country have the ability to fulfill their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners and even president of the United States. My hope is that with passage of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act the nation's more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system can have those dreams within closer reach.

Karen Bass represents the 37th Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood and Culver City, and she is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. She was also the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.

DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.


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