Maryland may be set to pass a law that would clear a major barrier to permanency for older youth in foster care: An extension of college tuition waivers to include youth who do not age out of the system.
The state currently waives the cost of state college for any youth who emancipates into adulthood, meaning they were not reunified with family, adopted or placed into a guardianship arrangement with kin.
The bill under consideration, Senate Bill 85, would widen out the eligibility for tuition waivers to any youth who spent at least one year after the age of 13 in foster care. The bill was requested by the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), and has passed the State Senate, and awaits action from the House of Delegates.
The current law places older foster youth in a position where they must potentially choose between free college and a permanent home. Shalita O’Neale, a veteran foster youth advocate in Maryland and the state’s current foster youth ombudsman, said she chose to remain in care instead of being adopted by a family member.
In fiscal 2016, 87 foster youth in Maryland received a tuition waiver, according to fiscal analysis of the bill. Based on last year’s rate for full-time residents, the cost of that many waivers is about $825,000.
The bill, in an effort to prevent separation of brothers and sisters in the system, also affords eligibility for tuition waivers to any sibling that is concurrently moved from foster care with an older youth.