The new California state budget signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown includes a pair of measures that advocates hope will support foster youth pursuing higher education and help parenting foster youth succeed.
The $122.5 billion spending plan approved by both the legislature and Brown includes a $3 million increase to the state’s contribution to the Chafee Education and Training Voucher (ETV) program.
The Chafee ETV program awards up to $5,000 during the academic year to qualified college students who have been in the foster care system with the goal of helping them gain an academic education or technical and skill training in order to be prepared to enter the workforce.
The only grant provided for foster youth in higher education, the Chafee ETV is designated for youth under the age of 22 who were living in an out-of-home placement at any time between the ages of 16 and 18.
The federal government provides $5.6 million to the state for the Chafee ETV program, but the additional $3 million will bring the state’s overall contribution to $8.6 million.
Simone Tureck, associate policy director with the John Burton Foundation, said that the new money from the state will enable about a 1,000 more youth to obtain college grants.
The lack of college-degree attainment remains a persistent challenge for many current and former foster youth. According to the Midwest evaluation study, only 8 percent of former foster youth held a post-secondary degree at age 26, a rate six times lower than that of a same-age comparison group.
Tureck says that the new money for the Chafee ETV program will help many foster youth access post-secondary education and training who might have been held back by the cost.
“The financial piece is so important for foster youth,” Tureck said. “It’s often what derails their plans. One false move can create a financial crisis for them that can cause them to drop out or to miss class and that’s where they may get to a place where they can’t continue anymore because they’ve fallen behind.”
Locked into its original 2002 level of funding, Tureck says that the Chafee ETV program has not kept pace with higher education needs in the state. After California signed into law a bill that extended foster care benefits to age 21 in 2012, the number of foster youth ages 18 to 21 in the state has nearly tripled from 2,284 in 2010 to 8,880 in 2016. There’s been a 38 percent rise in the number of foster youth attending community college in California since 2012, according to Tureck.
“This is an additional investment in this population,” she said. “We’re giving youth a much better chance of actually going to completion and getting that degree.”
Tureck also hailed the state’s decision to increase the money available to parenting foster youth in its “infant supplement” rate. The new budget includes $4 million set aside to raise the monthly stipend provided to young parents to care for their children from $411 to $900.
Tureck says that the additional money will be crucial to helping many parenting foster youth find their footing, especially through better access to childcare.
“It’s really important for [parenting foster youth] to be able to say, ‘Now I can go to school and get a degree, or I can go back into the labor market and find work,’” Tureck said. “Being able to do that puts them in a position where they aren’t just continuing in a cycle of poverty where they’re stuck without money for childcare so they can’t get a job because they can’t get childcare.”