Last week, I referenced a rather magical and unique event that happened in early June for foster care youth graduating from residential agencies in the Louisville area. Sponsored by True Up, Benchmark, Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth, Kentucky Safe, and the Department for Community Based Services, the ceremony was animated by real attention to these young people – their needs; their goals; and, their futures. As referenced in last week’s blog, I celebrated the quality and student-centric nature of the event, but it also left me with some important questions. Last week, I asked a question about developmentally appropriate practices in the broader public school arena.
This week, I want to reflect on the questions around an important challenge that we, as a state, face around educating the youngsters in state agency care. These schools are called A6 schools. While some of these programs inspire and inform, many lack of funding, accountability and quality. I believe that this is a problem that invites intervention. For instance:
- Currently, there is no cogent, unifying or effective governance structure around state agency schools. Some aspects of the programming belong to the Department for Community Based Services while other aspects are under the purview of the Department for Juvenile Justice. And still other aspects of A6 programming are the responsibility of the Department of Education. This leads to a lack of effective oversight of all programs. I would stress that this is not about those state entities caring or working hard for these kids – they do care and are working hard. But we have to formulate a more effective and unifying structure. I would challenge the 2015 General Assembly to craft a solution to ensure all A6 programs have proper oversight to ensure those young people receive the quality education they need.
- Resources around state agency schools are inadequate but even more troubling are inefficiently administered. We need to be asking very targeted questions:
- Currently, dollars for A6 programs pass through at least four – and sometimes more – different governmental agencies before the actual programs get a dime. Is this the most efficient means to get resources from the General Assembly to state agency youth? Is this the best way to ensure that as much of the allocated dollars go to kids and not governmental bureaucracies?
- In cases Kentucky Youth Advocates has examined, the actual allocation of the dollars is based on neither a common formula nor any common needs assessment. Some agency programs are – frankly – quite well funded while others have virtually no resources to serve students. Why can’t we create a uniform fiscal management system to ensure uniform quality across every state agency education program?
- Based upon an analyses of several state agency schools, it is clear that there is no system in place to draw down targeted federal dollars that can strengthen programs, service youth better, and actually save the state money. Why can’t we create a system to ensure that every Kentucky kid in state agency care can receive the maximum federal benefits for which he/she is eligible.
Opportunities to make a difference in the fiscal arena abound. Will the 2015 General Assembly, the Governor, or maybe State Auditor Adam Edelen — who is already heroically championing kids by holding school systems fiscally accountable — tackle the maze and mysteries surrounding A6 fiscal policy and practice?
- Along with governance and fiscal policy, another challenge with A6 schools is ensuring quality. This animates from my first point about the need for oversight to provide accountability. I hope the 2015 General Assembly will take a deep look at how young people – and how programs – are evaluated and invent a system where learning results matter in A6 schools.
All kids, including kids in the foster care system, deserve learning opportunities that are adequately funded; have a coordinated and uniform oversight structure; and have uniform measures around accountability to ensure positive results. Foster care youth are looking for a champion in the General Assembly to take on these changes. This vulnerable population deserves the best and brightest opportunities despite their situations.