Erica Cardenas

Education reform for foster youth

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In an effort to improve educational outcomes for foster children in Arizona, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF), in partnership with the Helios Education Foundation, have announced the award of $500,000 to the National Center for Youth Law. 

The grant is the fourth award in three years from the Accio Education Fund, a venture capital type of charitable fund created by ACF and Helios. The Fund, which is held and managed by ACF, was established to support the development and expansion of innovative education reform efforts for the benefit of Arizona students. ACF and Helios contribute equally.

At any given time, there are approximately 500,000 foster children in the United States. Removed from their families because they have experienced abuse or neglect, they suffer from poor academic outcomes. 

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Despite an abundance of evidence suggesting the importance of parental involvement, foster children frequently do not  have an adult in their life who could instill high educational expectations and discuss school with them, as well as ensure that they are enrolled in the right classes and are aware of appropriate educational opportunities. The Foster Youth Education Initiative (FosterEd) improves educational outcomes for foster children by ensuring that each and every one has such an educational champion.

An initiative of the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), FosterEd draws upon more than four decades of state-level system reform work to help states create programs serving all school-age foster children, including those eligible for early childhood education settings. 

NCYL has worked collaboratively with agencies in more than 15 states to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.

The Accio Education Fund grant will help FosterEd establish research-based, data-driven programs aimed at improving educational outcomes for foster children in Arizona.

“We are proud to support FosterEd’s efforts to give foster youth in our state a collective voice and a greater opportunity for educational success,” said Jim Pitofsky, ACF’s chief strategy officer.

“FosterEd’s commitment to foster youth in Arizona is inspiring. Because they did their homework on Arizona – assessing our state’s needs and key allies – their efforts will truly have an impact statewide,” added Pitofsky.

FosterEd’s objectives in Arizona are to:

  • Collaboratively create a sustainable pilot project that improves educational outcomes for foster children by ensuring that each of them has an educational champion.
  • Work with the Arizona Department of Education, Department of Economic Security and Administrative Office of the Courts to create a statewide foster youth education program modeled on the successful pilot.
  • Build the capacity of these agencies to operate, sustain and improve the program, so that educational outcomes for all Arizona foster children are enhanced.

“Our goal is to improve educational outcomes for the approximately 10,000 children who, at any given time, are in Arizona’s foster care system,” said Jesse Hahnel, director of the FosterEd Initiative. “In taking children into state custody, we become collectively responsible for ensuring that they succeed in school and are equipped to succeed in life.”

ACF and Helios sought nominations from a field of nonprofit organizations, funding agencies and businesses. Their specific request was aimed at innovative education reform programs already in Arizona and those from other states considering expansion to Arizona. 

True start-up efforts were not encouraged for nomination, but consideration was given to expansion of an organization’s proven, successful model if front-end investment had already been made and the applicant could demonstrate relevant experience to date.

The process used for selecting grant recipients from the Accio Fund has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national model for identifying and supporting innovative reform organizations.

Nominations were evaluated by a panel of recognized authorities that included representative voices of teachers, principals and superintendents from around the state, as well as representatives from organizations such as Intel, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Stand for Children, Tucson Values Teachers and the Steve Nash Foundation.

“Helios Education Foundation is investing its expertise and financial resources in initiatives that create a high-expectations, college-going culture in Arizona and Florida,” said the Foundation’s president and CEO, Paul Luna. 

“Through our support of the Accio Fund, in partnership with the Arizona Community Foundation, we are positively impacting the lives of thousands of foster youth in Arizona, helping improve their educational outcomes and creating new opportunities for them to succeed,” Luna adds.

The Accio grants are paid over a three-year period in annual installments and include intensive staff engagement plus technical and strategic assistance provided by ACF and Helios.

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