Tuition break for foster kids is a no-brainer. But who pays the bill?
- A bill at the state Legislature proposes free college tuition for Arizona foster kids
- The tuition waiver would apply at state colleges and universities
- Who will cover the cost is up for debate: the state general fund? Or other students' tuition?
Children in Arizona’s foster-care system would join the ranks of students who get free state college and university tuition under a proposal at the Capitol.
While approval is likely, some supporters worry a growing debate over who will cover the cost of the tuition waivers could sink a well-intended bill.
“Don’t screw this up,” Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, said after a lengthy debate last week on whether the universities should absorb the cost or whether lawmakers should find the money in the general fund.
Bradley, who works with a social-service agency, said higher education is unattainable for most foster kids.
“Every time I meet with an individual (foster child), I ask them, ‘Where are you going to college?’ And the feedback I get is ‘Why are you being so ridiculous? This eight-year-old or 10-year-old doesn’t have a chance.’”
Rebecca Pusch, a foster parent from Mesa, said House Bill 2482 would create certainty where little exists today.
“This program could reduce the state’s cost and break the cycle from one generation of foster children to the next,” she told lawmakers Tuesday.
As introduced by Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and passed by the House, the bill would require the universities and community colleges to absorb the estimated $755,000 cost of a foster-care tuition waiver. That would follow the pattern of the $3 million in other tuition waivers already on the books.
But money for such waivers comes from tuition-paying students and their parents. University lobbyists, in particular, have pushed for lawmakers to find money in the state’s general fund, rather than continue tapping the schools’ tuition revenue.
They got an assist from Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, who argued the state should cover the cost, especially if lawmakers are true to their belief that foster kids' educations are a state priority.
Last week, the Senate Education Committee approved a $755,000 appropriation from the general fund.
Some lawmakers and foster advocates fear the money will evaporate as lawmakers go into budget negotiations.
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Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, told her GOP colleagues that if they want money for foster-care tuition waivers, they have the power as the majority party to make it so.
"You guys are in charge," she said, dismissing their concerns the money would be lost in a budget deal.
The bill would make permanent a five-year pilot program that expires in July. Since its inception, the waiver program has covered tuition for 182 students who were in foster care, and 37 have graduated.
Brianna Carpenter, now 21, is one of those students.
She told lawmakers the pilot program made it possible for her to go to college. Thanks to the tuition waiver, Carpenter said, she is set to graduate in May from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
About this report
Foster care is just one of the many complex issues of child welfare in Arizona. A three-year grant from the Arizona Community Foundation supports in-depth research on the topic at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.
Are you part of the child welfare system? We want to understand your story. Go to childwelfare.azcentral.com.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl
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