In 2020, as COVID closed schools for the last three months of the year, only half of students in the custody of the Department of Children and Families graduated on time – the lowest figure in nearly a decade, according to a new DCF report.
While some of those students may graduate in five years, that number has huge implications in a society where the lack of a high school diploma makes it difficult to earn a living. “When you see such a high concentration of low graduation rates within DCF, we’re not setting kids up for success,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat who has been active on foster care issues. “It’s quite the opposite. We’re setting them up for failure.”
The DCF annual report for fiscal 2021, released this month, found that the four-year graduation rate for students in DCF custody in 2020 was 50.6 percent. That was down from 56.8 percent in 2019, and the lowest rate since 2012. The department has set a target of having 67 percent of students in its custody graduate in four years, although the closest it ever got was 63.4 percent in 2017.
Graduation rates are one of two metrics – the other being timely medical exams – that DCF uses to track child well-being. DCF says in the report that the drop from 2019 is “reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic achievement.”
The statewide student population, however, did not see a comparable drop in four-year graduation rates. Statistics from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show that the four-year graduation rate for all students was 89 percent in 2020, one percentage point higher than in 2019. One possible reason for the increase is that the state temporarily waived the requirement that students pass the MCAS in order to graduate, since the tests were cancelled in 2020.
The DESE statistics indicated that 58.1 percent of kids in foster care graduated on time in 2020. State officials did not respond to questions about the data discrepancy. That was still the lowest four-year graduation rate of any group measured, with the next lowest graduation rates among homeless students (64.2 percent) and English language learners (68.3 percent).
[Clarification: After publication, state education officials clarified that the DCF report looks at the graduation status of 387 students who were in custody on August 31, 2020, while DESE looks at 700 students who were in foster care any time during high school.]
Farley-Bouvier suggested that one factor to look at is the number of home placements among students who fail to graduate on time. Students who move from home to home are destabilized, making it harder to finish school. Farley-Bouvier said she worries that DCF is so focused on avoiding horrible outcomes – the death of kids in their care – that they pay less attention to avoiding other bad outcomes, like failing to graduate.
In 2019, Auditor Suzanne Bump released a report documenting the challenges districts face educating students in foster care. The report notes that foster children have significant emotional and academic needs. Nearly half have individualized educational plans. The state does not reimburse districts enough to cover the cost of providing services. Federal law requires a student to be kept in their old school when they switch placements, unless switching schools is in their best interest, so there can be challenges providing transportation. DCF staff do not always communicate with schools in a timely manner about when a student is arriving, and there may be delays in transferring academic records.
Earlier this week, Bump testified before a legislative committee in support of a bill that would create an “electronic backpack” for foster children, so academic records follow the student when they switch schools.
Children in foster care are already among the state’s most vulnerable kids. Those who age out without a permanent family tend to have worse outcomes in homelessness, use of illicit drugs, and arrests. Failing to get a high school diploma only compounds the difficulties these young adults will face.
Earmark issues: The bulk of the arts funding in the massive ARPA spending bill is tied up in legislative earmarks, which tends to undermine the effort being made to steer money to more racially and geographically diverse groups. Instead, the money goes to projects in the districts of lawmakers with greater political clout. Read more.
Red tape: Gov. Charlie Baker raises concerns about “red tape” inserted in the ARPA spending bill that could slow down the dispensing of funds. He said the $4 billion bill as drafted by the Legislature calls for the generation of 38 reports and the establishment of several large oversight commissions. Read more.
Is an MBTA fare hike coming? With the MBTA facing deficits in coming years, the chair of the transit authority’s new oversight board dampens enthusiasm for free or reduced fares and suggests a fare increase may be in order.
– “Without a fare increase over this five-year period, I have a serious problem,” said Betsy Taylor, the chair of the MBTA board. “I know there are many people that would like us to consider reducing certain fares as opposed to increasing them, and I think this points out that if we were to consider that we very much need to hear proposals, hopefully from the same people, on what revenues might offset any such decreases. There clearly is a lack of revenue here.”
– Taylor, who was chairing a subcommittee of the full board, also heard a presentation on the steps the agency must follow in order to raise fares at the T. Read more.
T notes: Boston’s $8 million fare-free bus proposal runs afoul of a federal rule for pilot projects. The Federal Transit Administration says pilots can only last six months – after that they need to be canceled or made permanent. The Boston proposal calls for three, two-year pilot projects. Rep. William Straus, the House chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, raises concerns about the Registry of Motor Vehicles using its database to help the MBTA find bus drivers but applauds the T’s decision to pare back bus service given the shortage of drivers. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Attorney General Maura Healey has moved from her Charlestown home, which she also listed as her main campaign address, to an apartment in the South End. The Charlestown townhouse, owned by her longtime partner Gabrielle Woholjian, sold in late November for $2.8 million. (Boston Herald)
Mayor Michelle Wu has championed the idea of dismantling the Boston Planning and Development Agency and replacing it with a more transparent structure, but she’s made no moves toward that big reform in her early days in office. (Boston Globe)
Wu is moving to make use of the Roundhouse Hotel near Mass. and Cass to house homeless people who’ve been living on the street and provide other services – and residents in the area aren’t happy about it. (Boston Herald)
A Worcester firefighter is under investigation for posting anti-Semitic imagery on Instagram, which compares President Biden to Hitler. (MassLive)
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu promoted vaccination efforts by opening a vaccine clinic at City Hall yesterday that was quickly overrun with demand for shots. (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts reports a 53 percent rise in COVID cases this week over last week, as schools report 6,879 student cases and 1,105 cases among staff. Gov. Baker says there are no plans to erect field hospitals. (MassLive)
Inflation is at a nearly 40-year high. (Washington Post)
Wages for those at the lower end of the pay scale are rising faster than those of higher-earning workers, a reversal of the pattern that has been in place for years. (Boston Globe)
The Telegram & Gazette examines Amazon’s impact in central Massachusetts, where the company has been bringing tax income, jobs, and traffic.
A blind student was allegedly attacked in the bathroom of the same Dorchester school whose principal was severely injured in an attack last month, prompting renewed calls for the district to address safety issues. (Boston Globe)
The Strand Theatre in Clinton, a movie theater that first opened for vaudeville performances in the 1920s, is felled by the COVID pandemic and announces plans to close. (Telegram & Gazette)
Actor Jussie Smollett is found guilty of staging a fake hate crime on himself to bring attention to himself. He faces up to three years in jail. (NPR)
US Sen. Ed Markey files legislation to crack down on fees charged by airlines for bags, legroom, and changing a flight time. (State House News Service)
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is partnering with a British company to use drones to deliver emergency supplies in remote areas. (GBH)
Attorney General Maura Healey reaches a $51 million settlement with a now defunct e-cigarette company, which she accused of illegally marketing to minors. (Associated Press)
The federal trial of Gen Andrade, who served as chief of staff to former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia, was suspended until March because a prosecution witness tested positive for COVID-19. (Herald News)