When a former foster child from Sarasota was accepted to Florida International University Law School, he wondered how he’d pay for it. After all, foster families often don’t have the money for such expenses. While state law granted tuition exemptions for foster kids seeking undergraduate and graduate educations, the State University System of Florida Board of Governors (BOG) refused to require state schools to grant exemptions.
That’s changing. After four years of work by Florida Youth Shine, Florida’s Children First, and other advocacy groups, committed lawmakers, and pro bono legal counsel that brought an administrative challenge, the BOG has directed state universities to grant exemptions to accepted students from foster care. A full repeal of the rule is said to be under consideration.
For years, Florida foster children lived in an educational limbo. With no “forever family” to invest in their futures, such kids had no promise of higher education. Yet, as wards of the state, some believed the state owed them an education.
Years ago, Florida legislators agreed, changing state law to grant such exemptions to foster children accepted to undergraduate and graduate programs at state schools. Yet in noncompliance with state law, the BOG capped undergraduate attendance at 120 credit hours and didn’t allow exemptions for graduate courses.
These changes have come in fits and starts. While legislature years ago voted to provide tuition exemptions for foster kids, revisions over the years added children adopted from foster care and those who age out of relative care. Last year, those aging out of nonrelative care were added. Also along the way, the 120-hour cap was removed, as was the undergraduate-only restriction, and an exemption that expired when the student reached 28.
As written this week by Florida’s Children First, “When the state removes a child from their parents/caregivers, there is an implied promise that the state will do better for that child than the family who harmed them…The state was their parent. We are their family.”
We all should be proud of these actions. Our foster children deserve every opportunity for higher education. Now, they have it.