Wednesday, February 28, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Legislature 2007

Bill proposing scholarships for foster children advances

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — Of the more than 400 Washington teenagers who leave foster care at age 18 each year, only about seven will graduate from a four-year college, studies predict.

State lawmakers want to improve those odds.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would provide college scholarships to foster children, and offer financial incentives to colleges and universities that enroll and retain those students.

"Foster youth have literally the worst education outcomes of almost any group imaginable," said Reuven Carlyle, a former foster child who got his master's degree from Harvard University and now sits on the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

"They often go straight from foster care to homelessness or unemployment or prison," said Carlyle, who drafted the legislation.

Cost of the Passport to College Promise Program is estimated at more than $6 million in its first two fiscal years.

In 2005, a study by Casey Family Programs found that only 20 percent of the 659 former foster children surveyed in Washington and Oregon had any higher-education degree or certificate beyond high school. Fewer than 2 percent had a bachelor's degree.

Under the bill, foster children would get more advice about applying for college and financial aid, figuring out what classes they need and learning what other resources are available to them.

They also could receive scholarships for tuition and living expenses not covered by financial aid.

The money could be used at both public and private colleges and universities in Washington and would be available for up to five years.

Scholarships would be capped at the price of tuition and fees at the University of Washington, the state's most expensive public university, plus the costs of living at the school where the student is enrolled.

Under a Senate version of the bill, scholarships would be available to all 16- to 26-year-old Washington residents who spent at least six months in foster care after turning 14, enrolled in college by age 21, maintained at least a 2.0 grade-point average, studied anything but theology and did not already have a bachelor's or professional degree.

Theology studies are ruled out because of concern about church-and-state issues.

The House bill, HB 1131, is sponsored by state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. The Senate version, SB 5155, is sponsored by Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.

"These are kids that we are responsible for, and it seemed inhumane to me and stupid to drop them off at 18 and say, 'Bye, you are on your own,' " Dunshee said.

Under the program, two- and four-year schools would get $3,500 for each former foster child who successfully completed a year's worth of credits, and an additional $2,500 for each year completed after that.

The college that does the best job recruiting, retaining and graduating former foster children each year would receive an additional $25,000.

The money could be used for additional scholarships, counseling, help finding housing and buying books or whatever else the students need.

Elliott Wilson: 360-236-8169 or

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