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Lawrence passes foster youth educational progress tracking amendment

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published January 6, 2016

 U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence recently wrote an amendment that requires the U.S. secretary of education to track the educational progress of foster youth in America. 

The amendment was introduced as part of the Student Success Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — commonly known as No Child Left Behind — which is designed to close the achievement gap that disadvantaged students may face. 

Lawrence said similar systems are already in place to track the progress of children in other demographics. 

“When we look at education, we can track the progress of military children and who are in different categories, but nobody could tell us if our foster children were staying on track with the academic benchmarks,” Lawrence said. “Before you even fix the problem, you have to identify the problem.” 

Although there are areas of ESEA that Lawrence said she opposes, she said she hopes the amendment will move the act in the right direction. 

“The bill has some areas that I feel we should improve — the state requirements — some of them are lax in that bill,” Lawrence said. “This is part of the No Child Left Behind Act, and we know there are some issues of concern with that. I feel that with my amendment, it will be moving in the right direction.”

Lawrence, a Democrat, said the amendment achieved support from the Republican-led chamber. It requires the U.S. secretary of education to reject any state plan that fails to provide separate academic assessment reporting of foster care children.

According to a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, there were 408,425 children placed in foster care in the U.S. in 2010.

Formerly the mayor of Southfield, Lawrence said the issue hits close to home. 

“I went to Congress on the premise I wanted to make a difference in the needs of my constituents. I know for a fact in my district alone, we had about 8,000 children who are in foster care. I know being on the school board, a high percentage of our children were in the foster care system. They don’t have the traditional family structure to support their education,” Lawrence said. 

Lawrence represents half of the city of Detroit as well as Farmington Hills, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Keego Harbor, Lathrup Village, Oak Park, Orchard Lake, Pontiac, Royal Oak Township, Southfield, Sylvan Lake and West Bloomfield through a two-year term. 

Lilla Weinberger, executive director of the National Foster Youth Institute, said that by improving education for foster children, the amendment will also benefit the various organizations committed to improving the lives of foster children. The National Foster Youth Institute aims to transform the child welfare system in America by partnering with congressional districts. 

“These are our children, and we must make sure that they have every chance to succeed,” Weinberger said in a written statement.

“I’m so happy now we can say, ‘This is what the data shows; this is what the children need.’ My step will be to make sure we’re supporting those children,” Lawrence said.

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