PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green on Wednesday set January as the new deadline for publishing data on foster care students, which was originally supposed to be made public three months ago.
A state law requiring the R.I. Department of Education and the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families to publish first-of-its-kind data on K-12 public school students in foster care had a deadline of September.
Gov. Dan McKee signed the law in July 2021, requiring school superintendents to report on the “educational achievement and development” of foster care students throughout the state.
The law resulted in RIDE and DCYF working together, giving a deadline to publish eight different data points “on or before Sept. 15, 2022.”
When published, the data is supposed to include never-before-available insight into how foster care students are doing around the state, including testing information, how many are receiving special education services, along with chronic absenteeism, suspension and drop-out rates.
When the data wasn’t ready in September, RIDE spokesperson Victor Morente told Target 12 it would be ready after RICAS scores were published in November. But it was never released.
On Wednesday, Infante-Green said the September timeline “doesn’t really work” because attendance and enrollment data aren’t updated until Oct. 31.
“All the data points that we need for those kids weren’t ready at the time, so that’s why it’s all going to be collected in one place that we can report upon,” she said.
“It’ll be in January,” the education commissioner added, but she declined to provide a specific date.
Foster Forward executive director Lisa Guillette criticized the delays, saying the wait comes with real-life consequences.
“There is detriment and harm to young people when we are delaying the analysis and the support,” said Guillette. “We are missing opportunities to provide that intervention.”
She gave the example of a foster care senior in high school, saying “every month that we’re delaying is decreasing the likelihood” that student will graduate on time.
Target 12 previously reported that only 44% of Rhode Island K-12 students who have been in foster care graduated high school between 2010 and 2022.
“I think it’s an accountability issue not just for RIDE but also DCYF,” Guillette said. “If we don’t have a baseline for how young people are doing, then we don’t know what interventions are going to be most important.”
Target 12 reported in September that no public school districts in Rhode Island are planning to use any of their $330 million American Rescue Plan Act funds to specifically help students in foster care.
A Target 12 review of district spending on Wednesday found only about 12% of those dollars have been spent by schools so far.
But there’s still time for districts to change their spending plans. Morente said districts are allowed to update their spending plans as long as they resubmit them to RIDE for approval.
Morente didn’t respond on Wednesday when asked how many K-12 students across the state are in foster care, but DCYF data from January put the number of children under the age of 21 at nearly 1,300.
Once the data is released, Guillette said, “if we dig into chronic absenteeism, if we dig into third grade reading rates and math rates and suspension rates, we will be able to make progress in the right direction.”