We know that youth in Kentucky are key to creating positive change for kids, and their leadership galvanizes other youth, parents, educators, community leaders, and legislators. In the Kentucky Youth Speak Up series, students advocate for policies, encourage other youth to serve their communities, promote strategies for student success, and motivate all of us to build the best commonwealth for Kentucky kids.
By Karena Cash
As a product of a two-parent household and Catholic education, I never thought much about educational inequality, much less in the foster care system. That all changed last year, when I had the opportunity to tutor a young girl in foster care named Grace*. Whenever I first met Grace, I was blown away at how much she struggled at basic division problems. She was in fifth grade, so surely she must know thirty divided by six, right?
As the months trickled on, I learned that she was in foster care and had moved homes three times. Each new placement caused her to move to a new school, each of which were at a different place in the curriculum. She didn’t know how to divide because she had never actually been taught how. Not only that, but she had fallen so behind that she felt like there was no reason to even try to learn. In her mind, it was impossible to catch up and, even if she did manage to, she’d just move schools again in a few months anyways, repeating the cycle. Over the six months I tutored her, we made great progress, but she ultimately moved schools again, just one month short of the end of the school year. I haven’t seen her since.
Grace’s case is not one that is isolated. It is one that is almost universal among children in foster care. At first I was hopeless about this reality, but then I decided to take action.
With the help of Kentucky Youth Advocates, I have spent the past five months working on a bill that deals with school stability for foster care children. This bill puts an emphasis on school stability and allows foster children to have automatic enrollment when this cannot be achieved. In addition to this, it allows for transportation to the student’s home school district, puts a timeline for how fast records must be transferred, and forces new school districts to accept all credits earned at the old one.
In these five months, I have had the opportunity to become involved with the First Lady’s Youth Leadership Council, and meet with First Lady Glenna Bevin, Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Tim Feeley, and countless other children advocates across the state in order to create a bill that best addresses this issue. After all my hard work, I finally got the chance to talk to my state Senator, Senator Dan Seum, about filing the bill. While discussing the bill, one thing he said was that couldn’t believe these things were not already being done, as they seemed so vital to the long-term success of youth in foster care. After a short meeting, he agreed to file the bill. It is currently in the Senate Education Committee as Senate Bill 190.
Being able to meet with Senator Seum and having him file my bill was incredible, but it made me realize something. When it comes to foster care, we are so focused on the immediate safety of the child that we neglect their more long-term needs. As a Commonwealth, we cannot continue to allow this to happen. While safety is crucial for these kids, so is their success and education. School stability is the key to achieving these.
By allowing foster children to have stability in schools, we are allowing them to have an uninterrupted education, which can serve as their tool for them to rise above their circumstances. By allowing foster children to have school stability, we are allowing them to build relationships with teachers and other students, people that can help them in times of need and ensure that they are on the right path. By allowing foster children to have school stability, we can approve the life of not only Grace, but of every foster child in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Karena testified on SB 190 at the Senate Education Committee with Senator Seum on February 22nd. It passed out of committee unanimously. Track SB 190’s progress throughout the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly on our bill tracker.
Karena Cash is a senior at Holy Cross High School. Throughout high school, she has involved in various organizations, such as Inspire Kentucky as a fellow and the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association as the most recent Secretary of the Cabinet. She plans to study political science with an emphasis on public policy at college next year. Her goal is to eventually be a United States Senator representing Kentucky or the Secretary of Transportation.
*Name changed to protect identity