PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Only 44% of Rhode Island K-12 students who have been in foster care graduated high school between 2010 and 2022, according to first-of-its-kind data from the R.I. Departments of Education and Children, Youth and Families.
“I mean it’s disgusting,” said state Rep. Julie Casimiro, D-North Kingstown. “The results are absolutely disgusting.”
Though RIDE tracks student educational outcomes and DCYF tracks children in foster care, the two departments had never previously combined data to find out how students in foster care were performing in school.
But a recent law changed that.
Gov. Dan McKee signed Casimiro’s bill into law in July 2021, requiring school superintendents to report on the “educational achievement and development” of foster students throughout the state.
The law resulted in RIDE and DCYF working together to publish eight different data points with a deadline of Sept. 15, 2022.
RIDE spokesperson Victor Morente said the full findings won’t be ready until November, when the most recent RICAS standardized test scores are being released.
But Target 12 obtained the department’s preliminary report, which includes the graduation rates and other data.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” Casimiro said after seeing the preliminary report. “We’re not doing anything right for these kids.”
Just two out of every five students who have been in foster care have graduated high school statewide since 2010, compared to 70% of all public school students.
Lincoln, East Providence and Chariho saw graduation rates of 37%, while North Kingstown and Exeter-West Greenwich hit 33%. Woonsocket rounded out the worst five district graduation rates with 24%.
“We need to take better care of these kids in foster care, and we’re not doing it,” Casimiro said. “We’re failing as a state.”
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Target 12 previously reported on a R.I. Kids Count analysis from August, which found that of the $330 million American Rescue Plan Act dollars public school districts received, no districts are planning to spend ARPA money specifically on programs to help students in foster care.
Lisa Guillette, executive director of the nonprofit Foster Forward, said these vulnerable students need ARPA dollars urgently.
“Let’s review the data,” Guillette said. “Let’s make some different decisions.”
“Now that we know, definitively, how we’re failing kids in foster care, we can have a more productive conversation about how to change that,” she added.
Guillette told Target 12 she’s been trying to get RIDE and DCYF to combine and share this data for two decades.
“RIDE had the ability, over 20 years, to know how subgroups of students were doing,” she said.
Morente responded, “I can’t speak for previous administrations, but RIDE recognizes the importance of partnering to gather this information and entered into a data sharing agreement with DCYF last spring.”
He said without the agreement with DCYF, RIDE couldn’t access the confidential information about students in foster care.
Casimiro agreed with Guillette, saying she was disappointed the full report wasn’t ready.
“I’m glad we’re making progress,” Casimiro said. “But I expected it to be done after a year and three months.”
Morente pointed out that “the legislation directs superintendents to create an annual report,” not RIDE, and said the RICAS data not being ready until November is the main barrier to completion.
One of the requirements of the law is that in districts where students in foster care are “disproportionately failing,” superintendents need to “develop a remediation plan” to fix it.
Casimiro said after seeing the data, she expects every single district to file a remediation plan.
Tolly Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook