Cutting a break for foster youth

Bill gives preference in class registration

It takes exceptional tenacity – and a measure of good fortune – for a child who grows up in foster care in California to make it through college. A bill that would ease the way for these students moves a step forward tomorrow, when it goes before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

AB 194, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose, would give current and former foster youth priority registration for classes at California State University and California community colleges, and urges the University of California to do the same. The costs are negligible, but Beall says the “impact on this vulnerable population can be huge.”

There are about 75,000 foster youth in California, and their chances of going to college are dismal. Although 70% of foster youth say they’d like to attend college, only 20% enroll, and just 2-3% graduate, according to the California Foster Youth Education Task Force.

“After overcoming every imaginable obstacle to going to college, we’re losing foster youth because they cannot get the classes they need,” said David Ambroz, executive director of the Los Angeles City College Foundation, shortly after the bill was introduced. It could get worse, too, as colleges drop classes to deal with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.

UC Berkeley undergrad Lashay Massey, who spent her entire childhood in foster care, managed to hold on when that happened to her, but it came at a cost. “I either had to take it another semester which could give me more units and increase my workload that particular semester or I would end up having to take it during summer school which is not paid for by grants or scholarships usually,” said Massey, “so I had to pull out loans which contributes to college debt.”

If it passes, the bill would make foster youth the third group of students given preference in registration. Current law already grants priority registration to students with disabilities and to active duty military personnel and military vets.

One of the biggest barriers to college for foster youth is that they’re moved so often that school is a continuing series of interruptions. Just 15% take the college prep or A-G classes required for admission to Cal State and the University of California. Crystal Lowry was 8 years old when she was placed in foster care, and attended 23 different schools before enrolling in college. Today, she has two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees, and works in a college admissions office trying to help other students like herself.

Starting next year, foster youth will have more support than Lowry did. Until now, foster youth were on their own as soon as they turned 18. They lost housing and their entire support network. But under AB 12, also introduced by Assemblyman Beall, they’ll be allowed to continue receiving assistance while they’re in school or work programs.

The California Community College Chancellor’s Office has signed on in support of the bill, along with the University of California. As of its last legislative report a month ago, Cal State hasn’t taken a position. While there is no formal opposition on file, two members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Republicans Tim Donnelly and Jeff Miller, voted against the measure when it came up for a vote last month.

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  1. While this is a great idea, it does not address the root problem. The root problem is that our current Foster Care system does not mandate that County Foster care and other agencies develop pro-education criteria for Foster Youth. Until County’s and others responsible for maintaining the Foster Care system are held accountable for the percentage of Foster Youth who complete High School and attend College, the concept will remain on the back burner.
    If you want more Foster Youth to attend college, it has to be a priority of the Foster Care system and the system has to be held accountable for the outcomes.

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  2. I think Rick is spot on, until a pro-education direction is mandated for Foster Care Youth it ill not happen.  Education (High School and College) needs to one of the primary outcomes the Foster Care system is held to. 

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  3. I greatly admire and respect Assemblyman Jim Beall for his dedication to his community and the most vulnerable members: Seniors and Foster Kids. His ideas and legislation may not be the panacea some want to happen within the foster care system but he has done more for these foster kids (with two pieces of legislation) than perhaps their own biological parents. We can not be satisfied to let individuals like  Jim Beall advocate and fight for Foster Kid reform or education reform.
    All lasting reform and evolution of systems and networks and agencies by their very composition require a “group effort’ for the system, organization or agency to evolve. If  Assemblyman Jim Beall can accomplish the spark to draw positive attention to the obstacles and needs of these  foster kids than other people educators and social workers must join in and add contributions too. Of course ultimately, all kids who receive mentoring or at least a message of HOPE that someone, anyone cares about them, they might just develop the resilience they need to continue the struggles toward adulthood and independence. Thank you Mr. Jim Beall!
    Teresa R. Hernandez
    Mother of  three kids,  kindergarten teacher of 23 kids  and I  vote!

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