Bill to help foster children finish college to become law

First-in-nation measure addresses obstacles faced by youth in care

AUGUSTA – Maine will be the first state in the nation to support foster children with higher education through the age of 26.

LD 1683, Resolve, To Improve Degree and Career Attainment for Former Foster Children, was signed by Gov. Paul LePage on Monday. The measure becomes law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, the measure allows former foster children to receive guidance and financial help with higher education expenses averaging $5,000 a year until their 27th birthdays. At present, Maine provides no support or guidance beyond age 20. The bill leverages one private foundation dollar for every two public dollars and would support up to 40 young Mainers at a given time.

“I’m proud that Maine is leading on this issue. Helping these young Mainers complete their education makes sense, both morally and economically,” Berry said. “Even with the best of childhoods, how many of us were fully independent at age 20? How many of us would cut off our own kids once they turn 20?”

Youth in care often have multiple foster care placements that contribute to gaps in their educations. It is not unusual for youth in care to start college after age 18, and only 2 percent to on to receive a four-year degree.

Private foundations convened by the Muskie School for Public Services will fund the entire cost of guidance, or one-third of the total projected costs.

Young people transitioning out of foster care are at significantly higher risk of unemployment, homelessness, poor educational outcomes and long-term dependency on public assistance. A University of Chicago study finds that between 12 and 36 percent of young people transitioning out of foster care experience homelessness.

Maine uses a mix of state and federal funds to support youth in care with their educational, vocational and other needs.  To receive this support, a youth in care must sign what is called a V-9 agreement for an extension of state guardianship. These young adults must be enrolled in school, job training, working at least 80 hours a month, or have specific special health needs.

The bill was passed at a time when higher educational attainment and affordability is an increasingly important focus for business, education and other community leaders.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Jobs for Maine’s Graduates were among those who testified in support of the bill, citing the need for a well-educated and prepared workforce.

A recent Pew Research Center report finds that the earnings gap between those with college degrees and those without is growing. Millennial college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 make an average of $17,500 more than their peers who have only a high school diploma. They are also more likely to be employed full-time and less likely to be unemployed.