Rep. Michele Bachmann might be viewed as a polarizing figure in Congress, but the Minnesota lawmaker is getting credit today for her bipartisan work to improve educational opportunities for foster children. President Obama on Monday night signed a bill that Bachmann helped champion, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which will give social workers greater access to foster children's educational records.
Privacy laws until now required court orders before social workers could access the records. This left them with little concrete guidance as they helped children switch schools due to their placements in foster care or their moves from one foster home to another. (A survey of one group of former foster children found a third of them had to repeat a grade and two-thirds of them attended three or more elementary schools.)
Many foster children ended up taking repeat classes or losing credits as a result of the lack of records, which delayed their progress toward graduation or frustrated them to the point that they dropped out. Poor school planning for foster children is one reason, experts believe, why only half of foster children graduate nationally. The lack of records on school discipline and grades also made it harder for social workers and new schools to place the foster children in the right classes.
There was little opposition to the bill, which corrected an unintended consequence of the 40-year-old Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It's passage was nonetheless a victory for the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which was formed this May by Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Bachmann -- who has been a foster mother to 23 children.
Bachmann was unavailable Tuesday morning, but discussed the legislation earlier this month when it cleared the Senate: "I know how hard child welfare caseworkers work to adequately represent the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system. We should do whatever we can to remove barriers that impede educational achievement and put in place polices that give our children every opportunity to succeed in school and in life.”