An Interview with Catherine Strode
The high school graduation rates in Colorado of foster youth trend significantly lower than those of the general population. A bill has passed the House that would permit students in out-of-home placement to stay in their school of origin instead of moving to a different school when placed outside of the home. House Bill 18-1306 is sponsored by State Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Michaelson Jenet says the bill addresses what has been identified as the most challenging issue facing foster youth: their high dropout and low graduation rate. The bill she has sponsored is designed to improve these rates by keeping foster youth in stable educational environments.
What problem does this bill address?
“House Bill 18-1306 is designed specifically to help our foster youth be successful in graduating from high school. Our general public has a four-year graduation rate of about 79 percent, which is pretty spectacular. In 2016, our foster youth had a 33 percent four-year graduation rate. In 2017, our foster youth had a 23 percent four-year graduation rate. What we are seeing is that number is continuing to decline. One of the ways we know how to help our students stay on track for graduation, is that they stay in their home school. Their home school is what they were in before being moved into the foster system. Maybe their sibling is in that school, or, they have a close relationship with a teacher or a counselor in that school. The student is able to stay where they are known, where they have some ties. They are more likely to graduate on time.”
I look at our foster youth, and our youth who are incarcerated, as our children. We fight for these children. What this is at the basic core is: somebody’s got to advocate for these kids.
—Colorado State Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet, House District 30
What does the bill do?
“The bill directs the Colorado General Assembly to assign money to send to the counties to use as they wish to pay for the transportation of the foster youth to their school. For example, a child in Denver might get adopted into a family in Commerce City. We want to keep the child in the school in Denver. We have to figure out how to pay for that transportation. We can’t expect the foster family to be able to afford that or do that. This (bill) will pay for that transportation.”
What is the Fiscal Note on the bill?
“We’re looking at a $1.9 million fiscal note. It keeps being amended. It was $3.9 million. We anticipate the funds will be split between the General Assembly of the House and the Senate. We both have our own budgets set aside for bills. The House and the Senate will split it.”
How do credits transfer?
“Credit transfers are a bill challenge because different schools have different requirements for graduation. They also weight their classes differently. We had one student testify that she kept being set back. It took her seven years to get through high school because the schools didn’t accept her credits. We don’t want to see that happening. We are asking the schools to look at the transcripts of the foster youth and be able to evaluate them so they can take the classes they need but that they are not starting from ground zero every time. It doesn’t spell it out. The school districts have to figure it out for themselves. Our school districts don’t like to be told exactly what to do. It is not our business. It is their business. We ask them to accept a certain amount of credits. Then they figure out how they are going to do it.”
Why is this issue important to you?
“My work is youth and suicide prevention. Our foster youth die by suicide far more than our general population. They also end up incarcerated far more than our general population of youth. Youth incarceration is something I am very passionate about. They also struggle with mental illness that goes undetected and untreated. To me, it’s how do we look at the youth and get them the supports they need all the way across the board? It’s not only in mental health. It’s not only in keeping them out of jail. It’s all of these pieces that go along the path. Number one is: if we can possibly keep you in a place where somebody knows you, and you like somebody, and you have a relationship. If your home life is unstable but we can keep your school life stable, how much value can we give to a child? That can stop them from dying by suicide. That can stop them from ending up incarcerated. That can stop them from dropping out of school. That can put them on the path to a successful life. If we can set them up with some sort of stability in relationships, they might be in a position to not be alone when they are out of the system.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.