Thursday, April 29, 2010

Washington D.C. Dispatch: Senate Hearing Spotlights Homeless, Migrant, Foster and ESL students

Amina reports from Washington on today’s Senate Health Education Labor and Pension Hearing --homeless, migrant, foster and English as a Second Language students are the focus

Homeless Students: Good Law, Little Funding

Nationwide there are approximately 800,000 homeless children in public schools. Ms. Denise Ross of the Homeless Education Office of Prince George County Public Schools, MD is a fervent champion of the McKinney-Vento Act. The law has great aspects. It provides services and support to meet the needs of homeless children. Yet it remains underfunded. Only 9% of school districts receive McKinney-Vento funds! A well-to-do county like Prince George is able to step in where the federal government falls short, but what about the other school districts?

A System That Can’t See Immigrant Student Success

Mr. Michael Hinojosa, the Superintendent of Dallas Independent School District is an eye-opener on policies that miss the point in the real world. Many immigrant students are under-credited and over-aged. Language differences and other issues make them less likely to graduate in four years. Currently schools are judged on their four year graduation rates. As a result many immigrant graduates go unrecognized by the system. The system actually creates a disincentive to educate youth who need more than four years to graduate. It’s a classic case of a well-intended policy with unintended and negative real world implications.

The Amazing Ms. VanDyke

There was a ring of heart wrenching thoughtfulness in the air as Kayla Van Dyke addressed the senators. She’s a Minneapolis student with a lifetime of experience in homelessness and foster care and is now on her way to a four year college. The graduation rate for foster students hovers somewhere around 50%. Senators and the audience sat a little awestruck by this spectacularly thoughtful and confident senior. She explained how it was more than luck and talent that accounted for her ability to beat the odds. After a life in flux she found stability. A counselor to inform her of available services and to offer support during the difficult moves. A therapist to ensure that she dealt with emotional issues. Good foster parents who provided three years of stability and assisted her in catching up with her studies. These are real programs and they reap real benefits.

A Straight Shooter Senator

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) a former social worker pulled no punches. She stated at the outset “the foster care system is broken”, “we track terrorists, but have no way of keeping track of the well being of these children”. Whammo! “How do we attract teachers to a high needs school for special education facing all sorts of sanctions and mandates when they could just as easily go to highly resourced equally paid suburban school?” Whammo, again! She gets it-- the system makes no sense.

All in all, a good hearing on Capitol Hill today.

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