A Look at Federal Support for Residential Education Programs

Image of girl talking in a youth groupTitle I, Part D of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act), represents a relatively small portion of all Title I funding. However, these funds—approximately $162 million—annually support 340,000 particularly vulnerable youth: those currently residing in juvenile justice or child welfare facilities.

In a study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, AIR senior researchers Jennifer Loeffler-Cobia and Nicholas Read examined how state and local agencies and facilities use Part D funds in support of education, transition, and related services and supports for the youth they serve.

Q: What can you tell us about the Title I, Part D program and why this evaluation is significant?

“Over and over, we heard things like, ‘Without these funds, we wouldn’t be able to provide this career and technical education program,’ or ‘This program lets us bring in a literacy coach once a week.’” - Nicholas Read

Read: This funding serves a group of young people who have not necessarily had the best experiences in school. They may have been abused or neglected and placed in foster care, or they may have been involved in juvenile delinquency. But the residential care facilities that receive these funds are not just focused on rehabilitation or safety; they’re also about education, and the U.S. Department of Education provides funds to states and districts to supplement core academic instruction and support for youth in these facilities through Title I, Part D. Our evaluation aimed to shed light on the use of this funding stream, which is not widely known or understood by the general public—even some educators aren’t familiar with the program.

Q: What was your single biggest takeaway from this study?

Read: Past work in this area has shown that students often make positive academic gains in these settings. And while Title I, Part D is a relatively small pot of funding—making up between 8% and 18%, on average, of the total education funding of the state agencies and local facilities receiving Part D funds—program administrators have been able to put the funds to good use. Over and over, we heard things like, ‘Without these funds, we wouldn’t be able to provide this career and technical education program,’ or ‘This program lets us bring in a literacy coach once a week.’

Q: What specific challenges do administrators and educators face in educating these youth?

Loeffler-Cobia: The study did reveal some areas that could be improved. One example is teacher training. These educators are not working in a typical school setting; they’re in a very specific kind of environment and facility—such as a group home or juvenile detention center working with youth with various risk and need factors. Ideally, in addition to having the background in education, they would also be specifically trained to serve this population.

Another potential area for improvement is the assessment process. A lot of these programs assess the educational needs of their students, but there’s no set process; each program used assessments in a different way. Standardizing the process would be a big step in the right direction so that facilities could consistently plan for appropriate services and supports and track outcomes to both sustain successes and identify areas for improvement.  

Read: Another area where facilities struggle is in providing support to youth after they have left care, which can help ensure that progress made while in care continues back in the community. While a good number of facilities do provide some level of aftercare for youth—for example, helping youth re-enroll in school or connecting them to job training—this typically lasts for only a few months, while research shows the importance of supporting youths’ integration back into the community for at least six months to a year to reduce the likelihood of delinquent or criminal behavior. It can also be challenging to track what happens to youth after they leave care, whether because of real or perceived privacy restrictions or a lack of staff or resources dedicated to tracking students.

Q: What do you hope practitioners in the field will take away from this study?

Read: This study will hopefully raise educators’ and the general public’s awareness of this important program. We’re showing the broader field what exactly is going on in these facilities—it’s the first time in decades that we’ve had an in-depth look behind these walls.

Loeffler-Cobia: The report allows state and local administrators to compare their own work to that of their peers and understand best practices. Hopefully, from there, they’re in a better position to implement those best practices. This work isn’t just happening at the federal level. For a separate project, in Utah, we’ve been able to work with both the Utah State Board of Education and Utah Division of Juvenile Justice in a collaborative effort to evaluate their practices, develop statewide strategic plans and assessment tools, and facilitate trainings, all aimed at improving outcomes for youth in residential care.

Image of Nicholas Read
Senior Researcher