Committee supports Libby bill to increase graduation rates for vulnerable youths

Posted: February 19, 2020 | Senator Libby

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 7-4 on Wednesday in favor of LD 1916, “An Act To Increase High School Graduation Rates for Students Experiencing Homelessness or in Foster Care.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, would help more homeless youth and youth in foster care earn a high school diploma. Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, and Republicans voted “ought not to pass.”

“Earning a high school degree is an important part of setting Maine’s youth up for success in life,” said Sen. Libby. “But too many kids in our state aren’t achieving that due to difficult circumstances and unnecessary barriers in their lives. We should be doing everything we can to help them, and LD 1916 is part of that effort.”

LD 1916 would reduce red tape for at-risk youth to obtain their high school diploma. The bill would require schools to support students who have experienced unstable housing that affected their education by helping them enroll in courses they most urgently need to graduate, and if necessary applying for a state diploma for the student, or aiding the student in this process.

Many students who experience homelessness, especially those who shift between different districts over the course of their high school career, often experience difficulty in meeting a school’s exact graduation requirements, even if they have met state graduation requirements. 

Sen. Libby sponsored the bill after hearing from representatives of New Beginnings, an agency that helps provide services to homeless youth across Maine. Officials with New Beginnings cited multiple barriers that young Mainers with unstable housing face that their peers do not. According to data from the Maine Children’s Alliance, the overall graduation rate in Maine in 2018 was 86.8 percent. The graduation rate for homeless youth for the same year was only 57.7 percent, and the graduation rate for youth in foster care was only 56 percent.

“For the youth we serve, the idea that education is the pathway to a better life is more than ethos; it’s established fact,” said Allie Smith, who supervises the Education Support Program for New Beginnings, in testimony supporting the bill at a recent public hearing. “Youth who do not finish high school are 4 ½ times more likely to be homeless as adults. This makes a lack of high school education attainment the single biggest risk factor for young adult homelessness.”

According to recent reporting from the Portland Press Herald, in 2017, there were 1,458 unaccompanied homeless youth in Maine. The number of unaccompanied homeless youth in Maine increased 277 percent from 2014 to 2017. The overall number of homeless youth in Maine increased 30 percent over the same time period, from 1,934 to 2,515. According to other recent statistics, there are approximately 1,900 children in Maine living in foster care. 

LD 1916 next faces votes in the Maine Senate and House.