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Sunday, June 16, 2024
Foster children could attend state colleges and universities without paying tuition if a group of bipartisan supporters get their way.

Foster children could attend state colleges and universities without paying tuition if a group of bipartisan supporters get their way.

Foster children would go to UW colleges for free under a bipartisan bill

College tuition could become free for foster children throughout the state under a new bill, as legislators argue that those who age out of the system receive far too little social support.

The legislation, authored by state Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, would eliminate tuition and fees at UW schools and state technical colleges for up to 12 semesters for residents who were placed in an out-of-home residence for at least a year after turning 13.

The tuition reduction also applies to those adopted or appointed a guardian after turning 13, or in an out-of-home placement on their 18th birthday.

"When (foster children) age out of the system, they sometimes have no support," Novak said. "They end up either in the workforce or they end up in trouble. This is an incentive to get into school. It gives them something to strive for in high school."

The measure would provide $410,000 annually to the Higher Educational Aid Board to reimburse universities and colleges for lost funds from the tuition and fee waivers, though that amount is unlikely to fully cover the costs.

Despite the financial shortfall, the bill has already garnered sponsorship from about a third of the state Legislature and received the explicit support of UW System President Ray Cross and the Wisconsin Technical College System.

“The UW System believes all students should have access to a quality education, and recognizing the barriers and hardships that foster children can face, we fully support this bill," Cross said. "It offers an opportunity for foster children, many who have experienced extreme hardships early in life, to more easily gain access to higher education.”

The bill comes as a part of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ task force to tackle issues in the foster care system, meaning it will likely clear that chamber in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, Novak claims the costs will be minuscule in proportion to the long-term social savings.

“And what’s our payback going to be?” he said. “What’s it cost to keep someone in jail or prison? If we can get them on the right track early and get them into school, it’s going to make a big difference.”There are currently only 26 foster children enrolled at UW-Madison, according to University Media Relations Director Meredith McGlone, though most already have the costs of their education covered by a combination of federal, state and institutional aid.

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