PA Bill Tackles Students’ Graduation Barriers

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
For The Posts

HARRISBURG PA – A bill making its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly is intended to ensure a smooth transition to graduation for young people who face personal challenges outside school.

Senate Bill 324 would help address graduation barriers for students experiencing homelessness, or who are in foster care or juvenile justice systems. It creates a point of contact at an eligible student’s school to help support them as they return to the classroom after time away from education.

Kate Burdick, staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said it can be difficult for families to navigate the process while children also deal with possible trauma experienced away from home. “It’s just so important,” she said, to have “an actual human who you know is in charge of helping you to feel more a part of the school community (and) to be making sure you’re in the right courses.”

The designated contact would also immediately request the student’s records from his or her previous school, and connect them with mental health services if needed. The bill also aims to address potential graduation delays that occur when academic credits do not get properly transferred to new schools.

Advocates say children in foster care or juvenile justice systems, or who are experiencing homelessness, may unexpectedly change schools for a variety of reasons. “It can be extremely devastating for the young person when they’re trying to reconnect with school, to have this host of system-level barriers put up,” Burdick claimed.

Only 75 percent of Pennsylvania children in foster care receive high school diplomas or GED certificates by age 21, according to 2018 data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That compares with 92 percent of students in the Commonwealth who are not in foster care, it added.

The unanimously passed during a June vote in the state Senate, and on Monday (Nov. 15, 2021) passed out of the House Education Committee. It now heads to a vote on the House floor.

Photo by Marco Fileccia via Unsplash, used under license