California Weighing Options to Expand Chafee Education Grants

California may attempt to increase the number of aging out foster youths who receive special college and training grants, either by adding new funds, reducing the maximum grant award to each student, or both.

Currently, California youths who have or are aging out of the foster care system can receive $5,000 awards each year to help with college costs through the Chafee Educational and Training Vouchers (ETV), a federal-state match of funds.

California regularly funds less ETV grants than there are eligible students. Last year, the state funded 2,730 grants with a total ETV budget of $11.6 million last year; full 2013-2014 budget details are not yet available, but Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for this year was to maintain last year’s level of grants.

Adding to the ETV shortfall, the federal “Sequestration” process triggered by last year’s budget battle knocked five percent off the federal contribution to California’s ETV.

“We are…looking at what options are available to increase the state’s existing $5.6 million Chafee allocation for student aid,” said Catalina Mistler, who supervises the Specialized Operations Program Branch of the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC).  “A data workgroup has been convened to analyze how more awards can be made available to all eligible foster youth within their existing universe of aid.”

The California Department of Social Services, which partners with CSAC to administer the vouchers, will inquire as to whether the federal government can reallocate unused ETV funds from another state.

Under the federal guidelines, the maximum ETV grant for each student is $5,000, and it can be made to any eligible student under the age of 23. Without additional funds, the state would have to lower the amount to approximately $3,000 in order to reach all eligible students.

Washington State recently chose to lower its maximum ETV for the same reason. California could not follow suit until the 2014-2015 school year, and only then if the change is approved by Jan. 1, 2014.

Mistler said another meeting will be convened to discuss “how the commission can give more awards out.” The date for that meeting has not been set.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.