PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — No Rhode Island K-12 public school districts are planning to use any of the $330 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding they received to specifically help students in foster care, according to a R.I. Kids Count analysis of district spending plans submitted to the R.I. Department of Education.
Target 12 reviewed district applications for the ARPA funds and found they had to explain in three different sections how they would “prioritize” students in foster care and other vulnerable student groups with the federal dollars. Despite that, the plans show students in foster care are getting nothing in school districts throughout Rhode Island.
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As a foster parent and school nurse, Jennifer Keating said she has a unique view of what students in foster care are experiencing.
“It’s appalling,” she said about the lack of funding. “It’s appalling because these kids have so many needs, and they’re really good kids.”
Keating said many schools have been in survival mode the past few years, caught between trying to follow COVID-19 protocols to keep people safe and trying to help students.
“I don’t think the schools are even thinking about subgroups,” Keating added.
“I’m very disappointed to see that no districts had allocated funding that meets the specific and unique needs for our kids in foster care,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, senior policy analyst at R.I. Kids Count.
Lisa Guillette, executive director of Foster Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the child welfare system, agreed with Keating and Clausius-Parks. She said national data shows just half of students in foster care have a high school diploma or GED by the time they’re 19.
“Children in foster care are incredibly vulnerable. They came into care because of abuse or neglect, they’re often experiencing tremendous trauma,” Guillette said. “It’s frustrating to see that we have not been able to identify targeted resources for children in foster care.”
But there’s still time for districts to change their spending plans. RIDE spokesperson Victor Morente said districts are allowed to update their plans as long as they resubmit them to RIDE for approval.
Target 12 reported in August that K-12 districts across the state have only spent about 7% of the $330 million they received so far.
Morente said the department won’t have current data on the number of K-12 students in foster care until October. But R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families data from January put the number of children under the age of 21 at nearly 1,300.
Guillette had this message for districts: “I know you have a lot of other things on your plate, but this is a really important group.”