ESSA and Foster Care Transportation: Ensuring Educational Stability

ESSA and Foster Care Transportation: Ensuring Educational Stability

January 1, 2024

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in 2015, marked a significant shift in education policy in the United States. One of the lesser known but crucial aspects of ESSA is its provisions regarding transportation for students in foster care. Recognizing the unique challenges children in foster care face, ESSA includes measures to ensure their educational stability, equity, and success. Let’s explore what ESSA says about transportation for students in foster care and why it matters.


The Challenge of Educational Stability for Students in Foster Care

Children in foster care often face a multitude of challenges in their lives, including instability in their living environments. This uncertainty can significantly impact all aspects of their life, including their education. Frequent school changes can make it difficult to have regular attendance at school and to maintain academic progress ultimately leading to lower graduation rates and increased likelihood of dropping out.


What Does the ESSA say About Education for Students in Foster Care?

The ESSA acknowledges the importance of providing educational stability to students in foster care. It also recognizes the benefit of having reliable student transportation and the impact it can have on school attendance. The ESSA addresses transportation needs of children and youth in foster care in several ways:

  1. Immediate Enrollment: The ESSA requires that students in foster care be immediately enrolled in school, even if they lack necessary records. This requirement attempts to address minimal disruptions to their education. Additionally, it ensures that if they live outside of the walking area designated by the district, they are entitled to appropriate transportation accommodations.
  2. School of Origin: The ESSA emphasizes the importance of keeping children and youth in foster care in their "school of origin" whenever possible. Their “school of origin” is the school they were attending when they entered foster care. In the interest of consistency and stability, the ESSA encourages collaboration between child welfare agencies and educational institutions to facilitate necessary accommodations to keep the students in their school of origin. Because of the fluidity of their living situation, this often includes transportation.
  3. Best Interest Determination: The law requires that determinations regarding the best interest of the child be made individually for each student in foster care. This means that transportation decisions should be based on what is best for the child's stability and educational success.
  4. Stakeholder Collaboration: The ESSA encourages collaboration among various stakeholders, including schools, child welfare agencies, courts, and transportation providers. This collaborative approach ensures that all parties work together to meet the transportation needs of students in foster care.
As illustrated above, the ESSA places a strong emphasis on transportation assistance for children and youth in foster care. It requires that transportation be provided to and from the school of origin if it's in the child's best interest. This means that schools, districts, and child welfare agencies must work together to ensure that these students can access the school and programs that will help provide them with educational stability, equity, and ultimately lead to their success.


Adhering to ESSA requirements: Transportation for Foster Students is Critical

Transportation may seem like a small detail in the larger picture of education, but for children in foster care, it can mean the difference between academic success and falling victim to a lack of education that is outside of their control. Providing transportation for these students helps enable:

  1. Consistency: Access to transportation means that students in foster care can attend the same school, maintaining consistent routines and relationships with teachers and peers.
  2. Stability: A stable educational environment, including their ride to and from school, can provide much needed dependability in the lives of students in foster care, who often experience frequent changes in their living situations.
  3. Academic success: When children in foster care can stay in the same school, they are more likely to achieve academic success. They can participate in extracurricular activities, build lasting friendships, and receive the support they need to excel.



The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes the importance of addressing the transportation needs of students in foster care to ensure their educational stability and success. By requiring immediate enrollment, prioritizing the school of origin, and emphasizing transportation assistance, ESSA takes significant steps toward providing these vulnerable students with the support they need to thrive academically. While there is still work to be done in implementing and enforcing these provisions, ESSA represents an important milestone in the effort to improve the educational experiences of students in foster care across the United States.

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