TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — 39% of Kansas foster children graduated high school last year. This puts Kansas among the lowest in the nation for foster graduation rates. This year, numbers are expected to drop even more.
Lawmakers passed a bill that requires school districts to track the progress of foster students. That information would then be collected by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and compiled into a yearly foster care ‘report card’. Despite passing the legislature, Governor Kelly vetoed the bill, which also included legislation to create a scholarship program, because it was too costly for the state. On Tuesday, the governor announced that she signed an executive order implementing the report card program.
Under the order, school district would provide academic information of foster students; such as the number of students expelled or suspended, test scores, number of students in mental health programs. This information would be shared with the state legislature with the goal of figuring out where state funds and help needs to go.
“We can’t solve the problems unless we have real data,” said Senator Molly Baumgardner, R- Louisburg, in May 2020.
While this is a great first step, Jami Reever, Executive Director of advocacy organization Kansas Appleseed, says what foster kids really need is stability.
“We have a system where kids are spending the night in offices, or they have 30 to 40 or 60 placements during their foster care placements,” said Reever. “That’s way too many and we know that when they have instability in their housing, we know that educational experiences are also unstable.”
Reever added, many foster kids are often bounced around schools and aren’t able to keep up with the changes in environment and workload.
There was some concern, when the original foster care report card bill was in committee, that this will add more work to already overwhelmed educators.
“They value their students, they love all of their students, but they also see the struggles that kids in the foster care system have,” said Reever. “I’ve had those conversations with educators, so I have no doubt that, even though this might be extra work, I think this is work that they will take on because they know that it’s going to improve the outcomes for these kids.”
Kansas has become well-known for the alleged mistreatment of kids in the state foster care system, including instances of abuse, neglect and even death. This has led to an ongoing civil lawsuit brought on behalf of foster children against the state of Kansas.
Lawmakers have created a Special Committee for Foster Care Oversight that will meet to discuss foster care reform between now and the start of the next legislative session in January.