Legislative Agenda

2023 Legislative Agenda

Treehouse is committed to advancing educational equity for youth who have experienced foster care by transforming the foster care and education systems in Washington state.

You can support us by raising your voice in support of these issues. Join our Advocacy Action Center to stay updated on how you can make a difference in this session.

Our Legislative Priorities

Supporting Funding for Treehouse Educational Advocates

The Problem

Changes in home placement, school transitions and emotional upheaval cause youth in foster care to fall behind in school. By 9th grade, these youth are missing nearly 1/3 of school days. Students who are chronically absent or failing courses are at extremely high risk of falling off track and even dropping out of school altogether. A root cause of this instability is inadequate support services and financial assistance for caregivers, particularly when children have high levels of behavioral and mental health support needs.

The Solution

Treehouse Educational Advocates support students in foster care by providing timely, appropriate educational supports and interventions tailored to each individual’s academic and developmental needs. By partnering with a team of existing supports in a youth’s life – caregivers, caseworkers, teachers, school counselors and community providers – Treehouse’s Educational Advocates help resolve barriers and identify needed resources to help the youth make progress at school.

Our Ask

Permanently fund four Educational Advocates in the amount of $920,000.

Improving Educational Outcomes for Middle School Students in Foster Care

The Problem

Changes in home placement, school transitions and emotional upheaval cause youth in foster care to fall behind in school. By 9th grade, youth in foster care are missing nearly 1/3 of school days. Students who are chronically absent or failing courses in middle school are at very high risk of falling off track for graduation in 9th grade and even dropping out of school altogether.

The Solution

Treehouse’s Graduation Success is the most effective model for ensuring youth in foster care succeed in high school and launch successfully into independence. The statewide 4-year graduation rate for youth in foster care has increased from 36.5% to 50.4% since Treehouse launched this program – an increase that is nearly twice the rate of their peers. Research suggests that middle school is the best chance to identify students at risk of academic failure and get them back on track in time to succeed in high school.

Our Ask

$6 million to provide Treehouse’s Graduation Success services to 50% of middle school students (525 additional youth) experiencing foster care statewide by June 2025.

Continuing & Expanding Support of Project Education Impact

The Problem

Youth experiencing homelessness, foster care or juvenile rehabilitation face trauma, frequent school changes, poor mental health and other serious challenges due to circumstances outside their control. Consequently, their educational outcomes are far worse than their peers who do not face similar challenges. When youth fail to graduate from high school, they are more likely to live in poverty, require public assistance, experience adult homelessness and be incarcerated.

Over the past decade, Washington state has passed landmark legislation and invested significantly into improving education outcomes for these youth. However, we have limited coordination between services and systems, and organizations accountable to these investments are more capacity-constrained than ever. Coupled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the expanding crisis of homelessness and the unprecedented adolescent mental health epidemic, the gap has widened for students experiencing homelessness, foster care or juvenile rehabilitation in almost every measure of educational progress.

The Solution

Project Education Impact (PEI) is a legislatively mandated workgroup that convened in 2017 to improve educational outcomes for youth in foster care. In 2018, the legislature expanded PEI’s scope to include students experiencing homelessness. PEI aims to achieve educational equity by 2027. To reach that milestone, PEI proposed several high-level recommendations in 2019, such as leveraging data to inform real-time, individualized education supports for students as well as a longitudinal analysis of education outcomes.

PEI’s collective impact work – where participating organizations are collaborating, rather than competing for funding and supports – is invaluable to addressing the disparities faced by these marginalized youth, and is the only one of its kind in the U.S. This work is leading the nation!

Our Ask

For the 2023 legislative session, PEI recommends the legislature expand the work group’s scope to include youth in or exiting institutional education, since the responsibility of juvenile rehabilitation now lies within the Department of Children, Youth and Families. PEI also recommends their sunset date be extended to July 1, 2028 (as opposed to July 1, 2024) so that the group can complete its goal of educational equity by 2027. These efforts can be accomplished through $150,000 in state funding. The PEI work group will pursue a 100% private funding match to these dollars.

Ensure Mobility and Independence Through Driver's Assistance Program for Foster Youth

The Problem

A driver’s license is a rite of passage for many young adults and empowers them to engage in school experiences and work opportunities that they may not otherwise be able to access. Driving is especially important for youth in rural or underserved communities where access to public transportation is limited. Fewer than 10% of youth in foster care get their driver’s license by the age of 18, as compared to over 60% of their peers.

As the Driver’s Assistance program is implemented, Treehouse has identified needs that the program cannot accommodate due to the authorizing legislation being too restrictive. For example, as of September 2022, Treehouse was only able to serve about 25% of the youth who requested auto insurance support due to the limitation of only offering basic liability insurance, as opposed to comprehensive insurance that is less risky for caregivers to include in their coverage plan. The language as written does not allow Treehouse to cover the actual costs associated with driving legally and safely.

The Solution

To meet the needs of youth in foster care, Treehouse has identified the need to expand the costs that our Driver’s Assistance program covers. Expanded services would cover costs including car registration fees, AAA membership, deductible fees, gas cards, car tab renewals, car maintenance, comprehensive car insurance and any other expenses that prevent youth in foster care from driving legally and safely.

Our Ask

Amend RCW 74.13.338 to authorize the Treehouse Driver’s Assistance program to cover the actual costs of driving legally and safely.

Our Support Priorities

Expand Extended Foster Care

This bill led by The Mockingbird Society will remove barriers to access for the Extended Foster Care (EFC) program and increase support for young people aged 18-21.

The problem we are trying to solve is that about 20% of young people who are dependent at age 18 do not currently participate in EFC!

Youth are required to prove they are engaged in certain activities such as working, attending school, pursuing school or work, or that they are unable to do these things due to a medical condition to be eligible for EFC. These requirements are barriers to participation, especially for the most marginalized young people.

Mockingbird’s bill will eliminate these as requirements for enrollment in EFC. Youth will automatically be enrolled in EFC when they turn 18 in care unless they choose to opt out.

Centralize Independent Living Services

Treehouse supports the original intent outlined in the 2021 budget proviso and will advocate for a proposal that includes a comprehensive, fully funded, and high-quality approach to centralizing Independent Living Services.

In 2021, the state legislature passed a budget proviso requiring DCYF to revamp its independent living program and extend services to youth in juvenile rehabilitation. DCYF has conducted a co-design process to create a list of recommendations for how to improve IL services. As of Nov. 1st, DCYF has finished a process to rank their recommendations with IL providers and lived experts. These recommendations will be included in a report to the legislature, which will be submitted before the 2023 legislative session begins.

Meeting Post-Secondary Basic Needs

Education is a proven pathway out of poverty, but many students in WA struggle to pursue and complete educational programs because they cannot meet various basic needs (e.g. food, housing, childcare, etc.) or lack support to navigate existing systems.

To pursue and complete educational programs, students need a single point of contact on campus who can help them access programs and services to meet their basic needs. To holistically support students struggling to have their basic needs met, the WSAC’s Post-Secondary Basic Needs Coalition proposes the five following solutions:

  • Fully resource on-campus navigators and establish one-stop centers at each postsecondary institution. Navigators should be equipped to connect students to all available resources to fulfill their basic needs.
  • Create Hunger-Free Campus legislation for WA’s 2- and 4-year colleges and universities.
  • Expand and make permanent the Supporting Students Homelessness Pilot and allocate additional funding to the Student Emergency Assistance Grant Program.
  • Require WSAC to partner with at least 16 postsecondary institutions to contract with a telehealth provider, evaluate this program’s impact on students, and ensure access to mental/behavioral health services to over 95K students.
  • Establish a state matching funds program for federal grants that fund on-campus childcare centers; expand the Working Connections program to include childcare for students seeking 4-yr degrees; Make the Working Connections subsidy more accessible (remove US Citizenship requirement).

HB 1295 Proposal

In 2021, the state legislature passed HB 1295, which requires OSPI and DCYF to jointly develop recommendations for the establishment, implementation and funding of a reformed institutional education system. To do this, OSPI and DCYF formed the Institutional Education Structure and Accountability Advisory Group. A report to the legislature from this group is still under review by OSPI and DCYF.

Treehouse will support policy and budget changes that improve educational opportunities and outcomes for youth and young adults impacted by Institutional Education.

Be a Voice for Youth in Foster Care

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