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School Districts Working To Identify Foster Students Under New Funding Formula

School districts in San Diego County and across the state will soon receive additional funds to improve services for disadvantaged students, including foster children. But the challenge is identifying them.

Aired 3/21/14 on KPBS News.

State and county school districts will soon receive extra funds to improve services for disadvantaged students, including foster children. But the challenge is identifying them.

Foster students are consistently among the lowest performing in math and English and they have the highest dropout rate, according to The Invisible Achievement Gap, a study released last fall that detailed the first statewide look at foster children and their academic challenges.

The subgroup is also highly mobile and change schools often, said Michelle Lustig, program manager for foster youth and homeless education with the San Diego County Office of Education.

“So the new school isn’t quite aware of it when they first arrive and there were lots of complications with identification that we really hope these legislative changes will address,” said Lustig.

More than 3,600 foster students are enrolled in San Diego County schools, said Lustig. San Diego Unified School District has the largest population with 800, followed by Grossmont High School District with 200.

The new school finance law, called the Local Control Funding Formula, gives schools an average base grant of $7,643 per student, with an extra 20 percent for each disadvantaged student and an additional grant for those who attend schools where at least 55 percent of students are low-income, English learners, or in foster care.

Districts are required by July to set academic goals for vulnerable students and report them to the California Department of Education.

“We host a database here in San Diego where that information is available, but really across the state most school districts have really struggled to even know who their children in foster care are," Lustig said.

Part of the problem has been a lack of a common identifier. The California Department of Education defines a foster child as one who is being monitored by the court system, including children who are living with their parents. The Department of Social Services, on the other hand, does not count foster students who are living with their parents.

Between the two systems, there is an 86 percent match, leaving nearly 15 percent to fall through the cracks, according to state education officials.

Starting in the fall, the two state departments will run weekly data matches to help school districts track foster students.

"I’m so grateful," Lustig said. "As someone who really is working very hard to increase the academic achievement and educational outcomes of a really needy population of students who have tremendous promise and just need some help, that we’re all working together as a state now to do that."

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