Kids Win in the First Pennsylvania Bill of the Year

woman helps adjust young person's graduation cap

Youth Leaders and Advocates Celebrate Victory for Youth

Harrisburg, PA – Yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed Senate Bill 324 into law as Act 1 of 2022. This bill, sponsored by Senators Langerholc (R) and Browne (R), requires all school districts to provide additional supports for students who experience educational disruption due to homelessness or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems. In divided political times, it is noteworthy that this bill passed both chambers unanimously.

The legislation removes significant obstacles to successful high school completion for students who already face barriers to on-time graduation, requiring school districts to create an infrastructure to help students get credit for courses taken in other districts, acquire necessary records and access extracurricular activities. These interventions ensure a timely graduation for students who have changed schools due to these factors.

The legislation also provides school districts flexibility related to credits and diplomas so they can respond to youth’s individual circumstances.

Students who change schools often lose credits for work they have completed in previous districts. Research shows only 60% of students who experience homelessness graduate on time, and one out of three of students with juvenile justice involvement never graduate at all. Only 75% of students who have had foster care placements graduate or get a GED by age 21, compared to 92% of Pennsylvania’s general population.

Attorneys at the Education Law Center and Juvenile Law Center first began working on versions of this legislation more than a decade ago. The bill is modeled after legislation adopted in several other states including Maine and New Mexico.

“We are grateful to the General Assembly and the Governor for their support for Act 1 and to the youth who advocated for this important change,” said Kate Burdick, Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “Students who complete their coursework under the most difficult circumstances and desperately want to graduate will now have an adult in their school district to help them. This simple fix to frustrating and unnecessary system roadblocks will facilitate on-time graduation and help students connect with their school community. We thank Senator Wayne Langerholc and Senator Pat Browne for their leadership in securing passage of the bill and prioritizing youth who so often are marginalized by our society.”

“Act 1 is a game-changer for youth who too often fall through the cracks and drop out of school due to educational disruptions,” said Maura McInerney, Legal Director at Education Law Center. “We celebrate the youth who have created this pathway forward and look forward to working with school leaders to immediately implement this new law.”

About the Expert

Kate Burdick is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center with over a decade of experience advocating for youth in the justice and child welfare systems. She first started at Juvenile in 2009 as the eighth Sol and Helen Zubrow Fellow in Children's Law, then later served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow (sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP) and Staff Attorney. Between fellowships, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Michael M. Baylson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.