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Local School Districts Expend Significant Resources to Fund Educational Services for Students in Foster Care.

School districts cannot adequately budget for children in foster care because foster care placements are often unexpected.

Table of Contents

Overview

Providing educational services to students in foster care poses a financial strain on local districts that is not offset by local tax revenue or funding by the state. Moreover, school districts cannot adequately budget for children in foster care because foster care placements are often unexpected. Additionally, children in foster care have a higher-than-average likelihood of requiring special education services and therefore incur higher average costs than those incurred for non-foster students. Currently, the state pays some money toward meeting these costs when districts receive a low-income supplement for students in foster care and when the state picks up a portion of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) costs under the special education circuit breaker. Because of the state’s allocation formula, it is not clear whether this distribution of foundation budget aid reflects the true cost impact of state care / foster care students on the districts that serve them. Given the high rate of placement changes and the concentration of facilities such as group homes in lower-income communities, it is unlikely that the distribution of these high-need students is random; a narrow set of cities and towns—often less-affluent communities—bear a heavier share of these costs.

Recommendation

1. The state should properly calculate and assume the full expense of providing educational services to students in foster care and state care. These expenses should include the costs of assessments, regular day and special education services as well as out-of-district placements, transportation, and mental health services. Because of the nature of foster care placements, school districts cannot budget for the influx of unexpected students during the school year. Thus, the state should comply with its obligations and the spirit of Section 7 of Chapter 76 of the Massachusetts General Laws and reimburse districts for the cost of educating students in foster care and state care. In recognition that the provisions of the General Laws go back over a century and that the nature of these placements has changed significantly within the past several decades, this recommendation explicitly recognizes that “education expenses” include all education-related costs associated with the imposition of federal requirements and the decision-making of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) regarding each foster child’s residential situation. Direct state funding of these services will allow for a more accurate allocation of funds to affected communities. Funding from the state will also lessen the administrative time lost by central office staff trying to determine the district financially responsible for each student and seeking reimbursements after the fact. In Appendix D, there is a simple model used to estimate costs to the Commonwealth for this recommendation. Estimated total costs less the estimated existing payments would net to approximately $56 million annually. More accurate data on student placements would sharpen this estimate.

Date published: April 23, 2019
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