Helping homeless and foster youth graduate

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Improving the lives of at-risk youth has been Rep. Michelle Caldier’s mission since joining the Legislature in 2015. Growing up in foster care, Caldier witnessed the dysfunction of the system on a near daily basis.

Unfortunately, that dysfunction persists to this day. Coupled with the rise in homeless youth in Washington state – 35,000 in 2015, up from 32,500 in 2014 – thousands of children in our state are at risk of slipping through the cracks.

As of 2015, homeless and foster youth had the lowest four-year graduation rates of all student groups in Washington state – 52 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

While the reasons are numerous, one of the main barriers that prevents many at-risk youth from graduating on time are stringent local school district graduation requirements, which are implemented on top of state and federal requirements. In the 26th District, which Caldier represents, one school district requires students to enroll in a swim class to graduate. Another requires a passing grade in a financial management course. A third requires an extra history credit.

Students who attend the same high school all three or four years may very well benefit from these additional classes. For those who change school districts frequently, however, failing to pass a swim class could be what prevents them from graduating on time.

To remedy this, Caldier sponsored House Bill 1444 during the 2017 session. The bill, which passed both chambers unanimously and was signed into law, requires school districts to facilitate on-time grade-level progression and graduation for homeless, foster and other at-risk youth. Local graduation requirements will now be waived for students who enroll in three or more districts throughout the year and still meet state graduation requirements. Instead of being shown the door, thousands of students will instead be handed a diploma.

House Bill 1444 took effect July 23, 2017.