Part 1 of our overview of new California laws for 2020 focused on changes within foster care, juvenile justice, and homeless youth services. This week we look at changes to K-12 education policies that increase supports for vulnerable students, as well as an update to the Chafee Education and Training Voucher program that improves post secondary access for foster youth.

K-12 Education

Child Hunger and Food Security

While longstanding federal free and reduced-price school meal programs have greatly improved students access to nutritionally complete meals, stories about “lunch shaming” over cafeteria debts have received much attention in recent years, revealing the ways in which children can still slip through the cracks.  Under California’s Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017, schools were allowed to provide “alternative meals” to students whose parent/guardian had unpaid meal fees. In cases that received nationwide media attention, it was revealed that these alternative meals were not meeting basic nutritional needs of students and, just as problematically, students were being informed of their lunch debts in front of their classmates, drawing negative attention.

For young people facing parental neglect or in families dealing with economic hardship, being denied a meal and publicly shamed for circumstances beyond their control can be a deeply painful experience. Under SB 265, California put an end to any lunch shaming practices, ensuring that all students have access to the same school lunch choices, regardless of any outstanding lunch debt owed by their parents.

Supporting LGBTQ Students

Nearly three quarters of LGBTQ students in the United States report experiencing harassment based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Whether this harassment occurs in the home, the classroom, public spaces, or online platforms, the experience negatively impacts young people’s overall emotional well-being.  AB 493 recognizes the need for schools to provide a safe environment for all students and establishes that all public school district should provide training and resources to ensure LGBTQ students are supported and safe. Among those resources specifically identified are: anti-bias training, inclusive and relevant health curricula, anti-bullying policies, peer support groups, and procedures for protecting students’ privacy.

Providing Academic Work to Suspended Students

According to a 2012 study, being suspended just once 9th grade is linked to a decreased likelihood to graduate. While the interconnections between academic performance, disciplinary issues, punishment, and high school completion rates are complex, there is clear evidence that the more classroom days a student misses — whether due to illness, voluntary “skips,” or disciplinary penalties — the less likely the are to graduate on time.

AB 982 was designed to help prevent students from falling further behind while serving suspensions. Under this law, teachers are required to provide all homework assignments for students suspended for 2 days or more, upon request by the student’s parent or guardian. Providing students the opportunity to complete their homework while suspended reduces the burden of catching up placed on students when they return to school, and will hopefully lessen the academic impact of the punishment.

Postsecondary Education

Improving College Access for Foster Youth

While most young people in foster care express the desire to earn a college degree, there are many hurdles that complicate their efforts to enroll and succeed in college. Chafee Education and Training Vouchers are a financial aid grant specifically targeted at assisting current and former foster youth in covering the costs of college. However, many students struggle with early financial burdens of enrollment and face unexpected challenges with the academic expectations of college. To address these difficulties, SB 150 adjusted the Chafee disbursements to allow more students to receive funds early in the school year while their needs are most critical and outlined the plan for individual academic improvement plans for students who did not meet baseline progress expectations. By creating more flexible, individualized progress plans, students will be encouraged to work with available academic supports and continue making progress toward their goals.