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Local Lawmaker’s Foster Kids Higher Ed Bill Passes House

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has voted unanimously to pass a bill by Rep. Dave Hickernell that aims to help children in foster care go to college.

The House voted 194-0 on Friday, June 22, to pass House Bill 1745, also known as the Fostering Independence Through Education Act. The next step is for it to be considered by the state Senate.

“Early on in my career here, I had the opportunity to sponsor legislation to establish commonsense measures to ensure that foster parents get the support necessary to provide a nurturing, healthy home environment for the children in their care. That bill became law in 2005. In 2015, I ushered into law my Activities and Experiences for Children in Out-of-Home Placement Act,” said Hickernell, whose district includes Elizabethtown.

Specifically, House Bill 1745 would: Create a tuition and fee waiver program for youth who are in foster care, who were adopted from the foster care system, or who have “aged out” of foster care, to be made available by statesupported postsecondary educational institutions, including state-owned universities, state-related universities, community colleges, and other state-aided postsecondary educational institutions. It would set forth eligibility criteria for participation in the program, including the maintenance of satisfactory progress in postsecondary educational work. It would require a coordinated effort by state agencies and the governing bodies of state-supported postsecondary educational institutions, to ensure that eligible students access existing available state and federal grants. In addition, it would require all state-supported postsecondary educational institutions to establish an employee to serve as a point of contact for eligible students, to provide them with information concerning this program and other assistance that may be available to them. The legislation would implement an outreach program through county agencies, to encourage prospective eligible foster care youth to participate in the program. Finally, it would require the governing bodies of all state-supported postsecondary educational institutions to evaluate retention rates of students who participate in the program and make recommendations on how to improve the program to maximize its effectiveness.

“I have put forth this legislation because more than 22,000 Pennsylvania youth are in foster care and each year more than 1,000 of these children “age out” of the system. Sadly, only 50 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, only 20 percent go on to college, and less than 10 percent complete their postsecondary education,”Hickernell said.

Without additional supports, it is clear that these children face significant challenges to ensure their future independence from government assistance.

“Emancipated foster youth, who do not have parents to rely on for support and guidance, already suffer unique disadvantages compared to other students,” Hickernell said. “One of the other critical hurdles for this student population is findingthe financial resources to fund their education. While the General Assembly cannot replace parents, it can certainly help eliminate or greatly reduce the financial barriers to higher education for these students.”

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