Just before President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law on April 11, 1965, he took the opportunity to stress America’s commitment to education and its role as a basic civil right. “From our very beginnings as a nation, we have felt a fierce commitment to the ideal of education for everyone.” Despite the idealism of Johnson’s comments, and the lofty goals of the ESEA, not all of America’s children have had equal access to a quality education.
This could change with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), an overhaul of ESEA and its 2001 iteration, No Child Left Behind. At the ESSA signing ceremony on December 10, President Obama echoed Johnson’s sentiments and added a specific promise to the very children who have traditionally been overlooked by education legislation: “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.”
Foster children, one of America’s most overlooked and underserved populations, have long been deprived of equal access to sustained, quality education. Barely half of all children in foster care could expect to graduate high school by age 18 due to frequent changes in home placement and gaping communication disconnects between education and child-welfare agencies. As reported here a year ago, “Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster-care children years behind their peers.”