Juvenile Law Center

Education of Children in Residential Facilities in Pennsylvania

Children and youth who are placed through the child welfare system into residential settings—such as group homes and residential treatment facilities—often face the toughest educational challenges. Through an Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Greenberg Traurig LLP, Juvenile Law Center has been able to focus on removing barriers to school success for youth in these facilities. Juvenile Law Center works closely with Education Law Center-PA on this issue.

This page details the legal framework setting out the education rights of youth placed in children's institutions in Pennsylvania. 

Law and Legal Resources:

Resource Spotlight

Learn more about education issues facing youth placed in residential facilities through these resources:

Moving the Dial: A Report on Education Experiences of Children in Penn Residential Treatment Facilities

2013 Report to the PA State Roundtable: Educational Success & Truancy Prevention

Blog post: Students in Foster Care Need Adults Who Are Actively Involved in Their Education to Succeed in School

Blog post: Foster Youth Need Educational Stability

Webinar: Education for Kids in Care: What Judges and Attorneys Need to Know

What Surrogate Parents Need to Know: A Training Developed for Local Educational Agencies to Support the Appointment of Surrogate Parents

Educating Children in Residential Settings: Top Ten Advocacy Tip List

Fact Sheet: Educational Decision Makers and Surrogate Parents in Pennsylvania: How to Ensure That Every Child in the Dependency and Delinquency Systems Has an Active, Involved Adult to Make Education Decisions

Note: Additional legal protections apply to students eligible for special education services.

State Law:

*24 P.S. § 13-1306 gives students living in “children’s institutions” in Pennsylvania the right to attend public school in the community where the school is located: 

24 P.S. § 13-1306 Non-resident inmates of children's institutions

(a) The board of school directors of any school district in which there is located any orphan asylum, home for the friendless, children's home, or other institution for the care or training of orphans or other children, shall permit any children who are inmates of such homes, but not legal residents in such district, to attend the public schools in said district, either with or without charge for tuition, textbooks, or school supplies, as the directors of the district in which such institution is located may determine. When any home or institution having for its purpose the care and training of children and having non-resident children under its care, is located in more than one school district, educational facilities may be provided by either district as though the institution were located wholly in that district. If the district or districts in which the institution is located does not have facilities to accommodate the children in its schools or in a joint school of which it is a member, the board of directors shall so notify the Superintendent of Public Instruction not later than July 1. If the Superintendent of Public Instruction, after investigation, finds that neither the school district nor the joint school board, if any, can accommodate the non-resident inmates of the institution during the ensuing school term, he shall direct the district and the joint school board, if any, to enter into an agreement with another school district or joint school board to accept them on a tuition basis.

(b) Whenever non-resident children attend the public schools in such district, they shall be furnished proper transportation provided for resident children, and the district furnishing or providing the transportation shall be reimbursed in the same manner as provided for resident children.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (d), whenever a student described in this section is a suspected or identified eligible student as defined in 22 Pa. Code Chs. 14 (relating to special education services and programs) and 342 (relating to special education services and programs), the school district in which the institution is located is responsible for:

     (1) providing the student with an appropriate program of special education and training consistent with this act and 22 Pa. Code Chs. 14 and 342; and

     (2) maintaining contact with the school district of residence of the student for the purpose of keeping the school district of residence informed of its plans for educating the student and seeking the advice of that district with respect to the student.

(d) The student's school district of residence and the school district in which the institution is located may agree to an arrangement of educational and procedural responsibilities other than as contained in subsection (c), provided that the agreement is in writing and is approved by the Department of Education after notice to and an opportunity to comment by the parents of the student.

(e) Nothing in this section is intended to supersede section 914.1-A of this act or any other provision of law applicable to a particular type of placement.

*24 P.S. §13-1309 explains how school districts can be reimbursed for serving children who are not residents but live in children’s institutions within the district.

 24 P.S. §13-1309: Cost of tuition; how fixed 

(a) The cost of tuition in such cases shall be fixed as is now provided by law for tuition costs in other cases, except in the following circumstances:

     (1) Where, for the accommodation of such children, it shall be necessary to provide a separate school or to erect additional school buildings, the charge for tuition for such children may include a proportionate cost of the operating expenses, rental, and interest on any investment required to be made in erecting such new school buildings.

     (2) When a child who is an inmate of an institution is a child with exceptionalities, the district in which the institution is located may charge the district of residence, and the district of residence shall pay a special education charge in addition to the applicable tuition charge. Such special education charge when combined with the applicable tuition charge shall not exceed the total net cost of the special education program provided. In the case of a child with exceptionalities who is an inmate of an institution and who is served under section 2509.1(b), the district in which the institution is located may charge the district of residence an amount that does not exceed the total cost of the special education program provided minus the amount received per child from the Commonwealth under section 2509.1(b).

(b) For students who the Secretary of Education has determined are legal residents of Pennsylvania without fixed districts of residence, the tuition herein provided for shall be paid annually by the Secretary of Education. For all other students, the tuition herein provided shall be paid by the district of residence or the institution as the case may be, within thirty (30) days of its receipt of an invoice from the district in which the institution is located.

State Policy Guidance:

* The Pennsylvania Department of Education and Department of Public Welfare have issued joint policy guidance clarifying that the presumption is that students in residential facilities will attend school in the community, rather than any on-grounds school, and that residential placements cannot “bundle” their services to prevent the child from accessing the local school.  The joint guidance also underscores the responsibility of host school districts to students living in residential facilities within their borders.

* The Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued other policy guidance relevant to the requirements of host districts serving children in institutions, including how they will be reimbursed for educating those youth.

State Board of Education Regulations:

* 22 PA Code § 11.11(c) explains that the rules governing enrollment apply equally to students residing in institutions. 

22 PA Code § 11.11: Entitlement of resident children to attend public schools.

 (a)  Entitlement.

   (1)  A school age child is entitled to attend the public schools of the child’s district of residence. A child’s district of residence is that in which the parents or the guardian resides. When the parents reside in different school districts due to separation, divorce or other reason, the child may attend school in the district of residence of the parent with whom the child lives for a majority of the time, unless a court order or court approved custody agreement specifies otherwise. If the parents have joint custody and time is evenly divided, the parents may choose which of the two school districts the child will enroll for the school year. If the child is an emancipated minor, the resident school district is the one in which the child is then living. For purposes of this section, an emancipated minor is a person under 21 years of age who has chosen to establish a domicile apart from the continued control and support of parents or guardians. A minor living with a spouse is deemed emancipated.

   (2)  Transportation for students must be provided consistent with the policy of the school district that the students are attending.

(b)  Enrollment. A school district or charter school shall normally enroll a child the next business day, but no later than 5 business days of application. The school district or charter school has no obligation to enroll a child until the parent, guardian or other person having control or charge of the student making the application has supplied proof of the child’s age, residence, and immunizations as required by law. School districts and charter schools receiving requests for educational records from another school district or charter school shall forward the records within 10 business days of receipt of the request.

(c)  Nonresident children. The requirement of subsection (b) applies equally to nonresident children who are children living in facilities or institutions as defined in §  11.18 (relating to nonresident child living in facilities or institutions), or foster homes, or with a district resident who is supporting the child without personal compensation as defined in §  11.19 (relating to nonresident child living with a district resident), provided that the person making the application has supplied the documentation required by law.

(d)  Immigration status. A child’s right to be admitted to school may not be conditioned on the child’s immigration status. A school may not inquire regarding the immigration status of a student as part of the admission process. This provision does not relieve a student who has obtained an F-1 visa from the student’s obligation to pay tuition under Federal law.

(e)  Home language survey. A school entity shall administer a home language survey to all students seeking first time enrollment in its schools in accordance with requirements of the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

* 22 Pa. Code  § 11.18 reiterates the rule that children in institutions can attend public school in the school district where the facility is located, and are subject to the same enrollment requirements.

22 Pa. Code  § 11.18. Nonresident children living in facilities or institutions.

(a)  The board of school directors of a school district in which there is located a licensed shelter, group home, maternity home, residence, facility, orphanage or other institution for the care or training of children or adolescents, shall admit to the district’s public schools school age children who are living at or assigned to the facility or institution and who are residents of the district or another school district in this Commonwealth.

(b)  The board of school directors of a school district in which a day treatment program, operated under approval from the Department of Public Welfare by a private children and youth agency, is located may purchase educational services for a child referred to the program under section 1310(b) of the Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S. § 13-1310(b)).

(c)  If the school district of residence of a child living at or assigned to a facility or institution, as described in subsection (a) or (b), cannot be determined, but it is decided by the Secretary that the child is a resident of this Commonwealth, the child shall be permitted to attend the public schools of the district. A child covered by this subsection shall include a child whom the Secretary finds to have been placed by the child’s resident parents or guardian in the care or custody of a Commonwealth facility and subsequently abandoned or deserted.

(d)  The enrollment requirements outlined in § 11.11 (relating to entitlement of resident children to attend public schools) also apply to nonresident children living in facilities or institutions.


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