Florida Phoenix | By Danielle J. Brown | April 12, 2022
For several years, Florida lawmakers have been providing more opportunities for foster kids to access tuition waivers and fee exemptions so that they can go to a Florida college, university or workforce education program.
And Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 7034, which will expand those opportunities to potentially thousands more foster care kids and young adults. The governor traveled to the mammoth Miami Dade College in South Florida to do the signing. The expansion of the new law starts on July 1.
Kids in foster care face “a multitude of barriers when it comes to higher education,” according to staff analysis of the legislation signed into law Tuesday.
“About 4 percent of former foster youth graduate from college by the time they reach the age of 26, compared to 36 percent of the general population,” the analysis says.
In 1988, the Florida Legislature started to provide certain foster care kids tuition and fee exemption for a number of semesters of post-secondary education.
Throughout the years, lawmakers expanded the opportunity to more foster care students. Currently, staff analysis reports that there are 69,846 students who currently qualify for the tuition and fee exemption.
SB 7034, the new law, is the fourth legislative effort to make higher education more accessible to foster care youths, as “an estimated 62,470 additional individuals” would soon qualify for the exemption. Of those kids, some will take the opportunity and some won’t.
The legislation also increases monthly payments to foster families to go toward kids’ room and board and adds a $200 monthly payment for foster families taking care of newborns to age-5 children, among other changes.
The push to improve the state foster care system has been an ongoing priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican who represents Citrus, Hernando, and part of Pasco counties located along the Gulf of Mexico.
“So we’re looking at it from a holistic perspective and now think that how these children, all of these children, will be able to have a tuition waiver to go to the college of their choice, or university,” Simpson said. “And it’s something that was important to make sure we take care of those most vulnerable. Think of how many other problems in our society we may solve.”