by Christine Salinas
Let’s face it, the college admissions experience is overwhelming! The essays. The standardized tests. The FAFSA! For many college students, just getting in can be a big challenge. But for current and former foster youth who are pursuing higher education, staying in school is the hardest part.
That’s why we’re thrilled that Senate Bill 150 is finally on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. If signed into law, the bill – authored by 15th District Representative Jim Beall - is expected to increase college retention and graduation rates among current and former foster youth by eliminating barriers to receiving financial aid.
The provisions in SB 150 revise the Chafee Education Voucher, which offers up to $5,000 in federal and state dollars to current and former foster youth in college or vocational school. Funds can be applied towards rent, childcare, transportation as well as school-related costs. This is especially valuable to foster youth because many face housing displacement and childcare challenges while they are in school.
While Chafee has indeed been a positive step towards providing current and former foster youth with better access to higher education opportunities, the strings that are attached to it ultimately limit its reach. SB 150 seeks to eliminate these limitations.
Let’s take a quick look at how SB 150 could be a game-changer for California foster youth:
SB 150 would distribute Chafee vouchers to students in the fall semester instead of in the spring.
Rent, childcare, transportation fees – when you don’t have parents to help you with these expenses, you’ve got to come up with them on your own – and before classes start. By receiving this money earlier in the school year, students can focus on their academic performance, not on cobbling together this month's rent and childcare payments.
SB 150 would give students two years to improve their grades before terminating funding.
To remain eligible for Chafee, students must maintain SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) requirements, which include a minimum GPA and credit hours per semester or quarter, as well as a reasonable timeframe to degree completion. While having funding requirements makes sense to us, one year is simply not enough time to close several years’ worth of academic gaps. The fact is that most foster youth struggle in school for years leading up to college. They need encouragement and time, not penalties.
SB 150 would allow students to reapply for Chafee after they regain eligibility.
Many current and former foster youth fall behind in school because they must work part-time or full-time jobs to make ends meet. A significant number are juggling parenting, work, and school. Removing financial aid amplifies the challenges that led to their academic struggles in the first place. We must provide them with another chance at success, especially when they are working so hard to achieve their dreams.
Pivotal applauds the California Senate and Assembly for honoring our community’s commitment to academic and career success for foster youth.