Wisconsin bill would grant free college tuition to foster kids

Wisconsin would become the 29th state to offer a form of tuition assistance for foster youth.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

A panel of Wisconsin legislators are expected to approve a measure Thursday that would give a “helping hand” to the state’s foster children, granting them free college tuition to attend an in-state university or technical college.

The bipartisan bill hasn’t faced any opposition so far, and more than a third of the Wisconsin legislature’s 132 members are co-sponsoring it, according to the Associated Press. The Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities will likely approve the bill this week, readying it for the full chamber for consideration.

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“Currently, only 20 percent of children who have spent time in out-of-home care that have graduated from high school go on to attend college,” Sen. Luther S. Olsen (R), a co-sponsor, said in a testimony earlier this month, citing national foster care data. “This legislation aims to lend a helping hand to these former foster youth.”

The bill would waive tuition and fees for 12 semesters or until the recipient obtains a degree or reaches the age of 25, whichever comes first. The children who would qualify are those who are state residents who lived in an out-of-home placement after turning 13; those who were adopted or appointed a guardian after turning 13; or those living in an out-of-home placement on their 18th birthday.

The legislation would appropriate $410,000 per year to the Higher Educational Aids Board to reimburse for remissions granted under the bill.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, approximately 7,500 children are living in an out-of-home placement as of December 2016. The Associated Press reported that the University of Wisconsin System estimates that more than 4,600 people would be eligible for the free tuition and fees under the bill. Although UW schools expect to lose about $260,000 annually as a result of the proposal, UW System President Ray Cross expressed his support for the legislation.

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Data shows that the vast majority of foster children want to go to college, but only two percent of former foster children who pursue postsecondary education end up obtaining their bachelor’s degree — cost is a major reason for that.

“The statistics are truly shocking,” state Rep. Joel Kitchens (R) said in a testimony in favor of the bill. “For those foster children who age out of the system, one in five will be homeless within two years. Fifty percent will spend time in prison … A great deterrent to these difficulties is getting an education.”

If the measure becomes law, Wisconsin would become the 29th state to offer a form of tuition assistance for foster youth, according to the Education Commission of the States.