Saturday, August 05, 2006

Increased funds for foster youth to attend college

This article was written by Rob Akers and published in the Bay Area Reporter, Vol.36, August 3, 2006.

Leno foster care bill gets funding
Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) held a news conference last month to announce more than $14 million for college readiness and assistance for foster youth.

The funding boost was included in the 2006-07 state budget, and will allow implementation of Leno's AB2489, a measure to provide foster youth with academic preparation, financial assistance, and campus-based support.

A diverse group of foster youth, their advocates, and various elected officials, including Supervisor Sophie Maxwell were on hand at San Francisco's Independent Living Skills Center July 11 to share the news.

"This is exciting," Leno said. "This money will mean the difference of college success in the lives of foster kids who have nobody to turn to for the support all young people need."

Leno said the program is important to keep youth on track. "And higher education is part of that plan. Every foster youth accepted will now have their tuition and fees covered ... whatever the need is the student will get to determine it."

Leo Rayford, an emancipated foster youth at ILSC, thanked Leno for his efforts to include the foster care funding in the budget.

"Without these resources I would have been stressed on the financial problems instead of being stressed on passing the courses. So I am blessed to have the privilege of obtaining financial aid," he said.

Rayford, who is attending Solano Community College, urged his fellow foster youth who attended the news conference to take advantage of the resources the measure provides.
Eliza Gibson, chief of programs at Larkin Street Youth Services, also thanked Leno and Maxwell for their leadership "in addressing the needs of foster care youth, particularly the barriers to accessing high education."

"Like all homeless youth, former foster care youth face tremendous obstacles to pursue and reach their educational goals. I look forward to continuing to work alongside community partners to help all foster care youth reach their full potential," Gibson said.
Leno said there are 2,400 children in foster care in San Francisco, one of the highest per capita rates in the state.

Foster care reform received $82 million in the 2006-2007 state budget, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in late June.

Specifically, the budget expands the Foster Youth Services Education Program by $8.2 million and increases the Chafee Scholarship Program, providing financial aid for foster youth attending two-year or four-year colleges by $5.7 million. The combined increases should fully fund all eligible foster youth.

The state budget will provide the funding source for AB2489, a comprehensive package of reforms meant to help foster youth achieve their higher education goals.

The measure expands the California Department of Education's Foster Youth Services program to all foster youth, provides tuition waivers for college, establishes automatic eligibility for Cal-Grants, creates housing preferences for foster youth on college campuses, and provides state matching funds for Chafee Scholarship grants.