Carolyn McCarthy

Lost Educational Opportunities - March 12, 2009

Carolyn McCarthy
March 12, 2009— Washington, D.C.
Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee hearing
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Rep. McCarthy, chair of the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee, delivers her opening statement at a hearing regarding lost educational opportunities in alternative settings.

I would like to thank you all for being here today. And I thank you for traveling and spending the time with us. I think it is very important.

The testimony that we heard, or I should say read, is very interesting. And I was meeting with my National PTA people upstairs before I came down here, and one of things that was on their agenda was that a lot of young people were going into the juvenile justice system even just for truancy. And that is something I know that we are going to be discussing here.

Each of us sitting here knows that the importance of education in a child's life--unfortunately there is a whole population of students not receiving adequate education services, and there is no or little to no accountability. This hearing will focus on youth who in many instances need the most help but all too often fall through the cracks. For them, the opportunity for a decent education is lost.

The students we are talking about may be in day treatment programs, residential treatment centers, group homes, foster care settings, juvenile justice facilities or private therapeutic programs. Data reflects that minority youth, low-income youth and youth with disabilities are overrepresented in these particular systems. Youth are commonly shuffled from one setting to the next with education services--in each placement locality and state.

A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office on residential facilities found state governments that are responsible for the oversight of juvenile facilities often do not monitor the quality of the education programs in these facilities or monitor them inconsistently. The consequences for the students include a lack of qualified teachers, shortened school days, low quality of curriculum and overall lost opportunities.

In fact, data shows that only 17 percent of teachers in juvenile facilities are fully certified. We hear stories of teenage students being given coloring sheets as their schoolwork, teachers are not showing up to teach class, and lockdown situations that leave children without any form of education for days at a time.

One of our witnesses, Dr. Blomberg, will touch on the school-to-prison pipeline where students begin in a traditional public school and are referred to alternative placements, many times for minor infractions, like truancy. Another witness, Ms. Steel, will talk about growing up with undiagnosed learning disabilities, dropping out of school and fighting her way back to become an attorney who protects the education rights of vulnerable, at-risk youth, including those in foster care and those with learning disabilities. I understand Ms. Steel's situation, as I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 30.

These students then receive substandard education and ultimately end the cycle from within a juvenile justice facility or incarcerated. It is not realistic to expect students receiving this type of education to graduate high school or let alone go to college.

We know a good education is one of the most effective ways to prevent delinquency. The overall economic costs for individuals in the corrective system are astonishing. To address the educational needs of students from the beginning of a child's school career, before that child falls through the cracks, is not only economically sound but is simply the right thing to do. So each of our witnesses here today can speak to successes despite the odds. Success for these vulnerable youth is not the norm.

Thank you all for joining us and I look forward to hearing your testimony.

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