Bills on Pupil Records Disclosure for Pupils in Out-of-Home Placement Receive Public Hearings

A pair of bills designed to permit child welfare workers to gain access to pupil records of pupils in out-of-home placement (e.g., foster care) received public hearings yesterday.

Assembly Bill 478 had a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Children and Families while it’s identical companion bill, Senate Bill 353 was heard by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services on Wednesday (Jan. 6).  The bills are authored by state Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

These bills are the result of efforts by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) who have been working to improve the educational outcomes of children in the child welfare system.  A critical component identified in these discussions was the importance of having timely and accurate data on the educational activities of children in the child welfare system so that their educational needs can be identified and interventions begun quickly.  This would include information on things like student mobility, attendance, and suspensions.

These bills incorporate into state law new changes made to the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA, the federal educational privacy law) by the Uninterrupted Scholars Act.  It would permit a school board, on request, to disclose pupil records that are pertinent to addressing a pupil’s educational needs to a caseworker or other representative of DCF, a county department, or a tribal organization that is legally responsible for the care and protection of the pupil, if the caseworker or other representative is authorized by DCF, that county department, or that tribal organization to access the pupil’s case plan.

The bill also permits (but does not require)  a school board to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, a county department or tribal organization that permits that disclosure of pupil records.

Both DCF and DPI support this important update to state statute to align with FERPA and believes allowing child welfare workers to have more timely and accurate data on educational matters will create a valuable tool that they can use to better support the education of children in out-of-home placement.

The WASB was approached early in the process by representatives of DCF and had an opportunity to review early drafts of the proposal and make suggestions.  The WASB registered in support of both bills at the hearings and testified in favor of the Assembly version.