March 11, 2013: “I no longer want to look into the eyes of a child who is trying to succeed and who has been thwarted by a system that doesn’t have a system.” –- Gordon Jackson, at left, Director, Coordinated Student Support & Adult Education Div., California Department of Education (CDE).
Topping the agenda at the March 6 meeting in San Francisco of the state Child Welfare Council was the issue of partial credits – how the public education system accommodates the reality of non-permanency in the lives of its students, particularly those in the foster care system who are subject to frequent re-placements without concern for the geography of school districts.
California Education Code Section 48645 requires each public school district and county office of education to accept for credit, full or partial coursework satisfactorily completed by a pupil while attending another public school or non-public, non-sectarian school or agency.
Nevertheless, as Gordon Jackson notes, “Although there is a code that clearly indicates partial credit be applied, the other complementary piece, the mechanism that is missing, is the guidance on how a district is to do this.” What is needed, Jackson says, is an inter-district mechanism. “Currently we have many different systems operating in different ways. Districts are honoring the idea of partial credits, which is a good thing, but how they do it – in ways that are often not collaborative – is the issue.”
Members who attended the CWC meeting last Wednesday heard first-person testimony from Amaya, a foster youth who was moved three times between her freshman and junior years in high school. “I was constantly moving,” she said, “from one home, one school, one community to another. I was always a stranger at school and a stranger in my new family. At school there were always two obstacles: classes and credits. Class and credit transfers are a mess…We have to take classes over because the credits didn’t transfer…”
“Children should be allowed to focus on success,” Jackson said. “[Re partial credits] They should be held harmless.”
The Child Welfare Council’s role is advisory; as Jackson describes it, “Our job is to do the footwork to breathe life into what [an ideal system] may look like when it grows up. Our job is to facilitate a group of key education leaders from CDE, from [the California School Boards Association], from key education leaders, to identify what needs to happen, and then determine what is the best way to implement the [necessary procedures]."
Giving an example of how the system fails the child, Jackson says, “A.J., a foster child, takes three months of world geography at Elk Grove USD and is then placed in a home in the Chico USD. The issue is, when he moves to Chico, how to transfer the credits for the time he has already spent in world geography. Some districts say 3 months equal 1.3 credits; some say, well, he didn’t finish the semester, so that’s only .5 credits. Some make him start all over again. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it’s due to an absence of guidance – of [collaboration on] the formula, the interpretation, the method of implementation. No one deliberately makes a decision to [harm] a foster child.”
Partial credits will be the focus of a new subcommittee of the CWC. "There's excitement," Jackson says, "about the idea that we're going to have a group come together to resolve these well-intentioned issues in education. We're now determining who needs to be on this committee so we can do the outreach. It's a matter of getting the right people on the right bus."
Judge Leonard Edwards, retired from the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara County, and a volunteer of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), commented that he fully supported the CWC’s focus on this issue, but he added, “One thing that jumps out in this narrative is the constantly changing placements….[the CWC] should be talking more about [foster care] placement stability. This [instability] of foster children is the bane of our systems of welfare and social justice.
“Placement stability is also linked to better education outcomes,” Edwards continued. It was noted that Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), while weighting student funding in favor of low-income (free and reduced-price meals) includes foster children, “there is no additional funding specifically for foster youth,” and that it is critical, “Foster Youth Services needs to retain categorical funding.”