The Improving Education for Homeless and Foster Children with Disabilities Act would expand the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that these young people have the resources to reach their full potential.
There are more than 500,000 children in foster care and an estimated 1.35 million children experience homelessness each year; high percentages of both populations are in need of special education services. Unfortunately, without a parental advocate or continuity of location, many of these children slip through the cracks.
The Murray-DeWine bill would provide help to states and districts to meet these special challenges.
- Provide greater continuity for these students when they change schools and districts by ensuring that each child's Individualized Education Plan – IEP – continues to be implemented until a new one has been developed.
- Increase opportunities for early evaluation and intervention for homeless and foster infants and toddlers with disabilities.
- Direct state agencies to include representatives for foster and homeless children on committees tasked with making decisions about special education.
- Expand the definition of "parent" to include relatives or other advocates who are equipped to make decisions in a child's best interest when there is no biological parent available to do so.
- Directs local education agencies to coordinate strategies for delivering services to homeless children and youth with disabilities
"As the only former pre-school teacher in the Senate, I feel a personal obligation to stand up for our children. And standing up for our children means expanding access to special education services for those who need it most," Senator Murray said. "Congress has a long and proud tradition of supporting and protecting the most vulnerable among us. It's time for Congress to step up again and make education work for homeless and foster children with disabilities," Senator Murray said.
"Foster and homeless children often face overwhelming challenges requiring special attention to make sure their educational needs are met," said Senator DeWine. "Without constant and involved advocates, these children can continue to float through our educational system without ever addressing a disability need. This bill will make small, but substantive changes to help disabled homeless and foster children to have a voice in receiving the free and appropriate public education they deserve under IDEA."
A summary of the Improving Education for Homeless and Foster Care Children with Disabilities Amendment follows:
Improving Education for Homeless and Foster Care Children with Disabilities Amendment of 2003
Amends IDEA to ensure that homeless and foster children with disabilities have access to special education and other related services:
· Expands the definition of "parent" to include foster parents, adoptive parents, legal guardians, grandparents, step-grandparents, appropriate related or unrelated adults and legally designated adults who will serve as an advocate for these children.
· Defines "ward of the State" as a child who, under the care of the state in which he or she resides, is considered an individual in the custody of a child welfare agency or at home under protective supervision. Children under 3 years old are also included as homeless children or wards of the State.
· Strengthens early invention and evaluation of infants and toddlers with disabilities who are homeless or wards of the State.
· Directs state agencies to include at least 1 foster parent, 1grandparent, officials from the agency responsible for homeless children, representatives from the child-welfare agency and representatives of wards of the State including judges, attorneys and court appointed advocates in various policy committees.
· Directs local education agencies to coordinate strategies for delivering services to homeless children and youth with disabilities as designated in the McKinney-Vento Act.
· Instructs local education agencies, the State education agency or other state agency to continue implementing the existing IEP of a homeless child or ward of the State who enrolls in a new school until a new IEP has been developed.
· Allows a judge appointed to the case or the child's attorney, guardian, or court appointed special advocate to provide informed consent for initial evaluations of children who are wards of the State.
· Authorizes training projects involving educational advocacy to people with responsibility for wards of the State or homeless children.