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DeSantis signs law expanding financial aid for foster care youth, caregivers

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Scott Keeler
Associated Press
File photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill into law expanding financial aid for children in foster care, setting aside more funding for family members who become caregivers and making more foster kids eligible for tuition waivers at state colleges and universities.

At a bill signing event at Miami Dade College on Tuesday, DeSantis said the measure is meant to give kids in the foster system a better chance at independence and to incentivize more Floridians to become caregivers.

“All these kids deserve an opportunity,” DeSantis said. “And we're going to do what we can to make sure that their dreams and hopes and aspirations can become a reality in a loving home.”

Some Floridians who are currently in or have aged out of foster care can already qualify for tuition and fee waivers at state colleges and universities.

Senate Bill 7034 would expand the eligibility criteria to include students who have been placed in a shelter, were declared dependent, or had their parents’ rights terminated and:

  • who are or were in out-of-home care at age 18
  • who have been reunited with a parent but spent at least 18 months in out-of-home care after the age of 14, and are Pell Grant-eligible, or
  • who were placed in a permanent guardianship and remain there until turning 18 or enrolls in an eligible institution before turning 18

According to a state analysis, an estimated 69,000 Floridians can already qualify for the program. The legislation is expected to nearly double that number, making another 62,000 students eligible.

People who were in foster care are significantly less likely than their peers to graduate college. According to the National Foster Youth Initiative, just 3% of former foster youth earn a college degree.

“For many of the kids in the system, attending and graduating college is defying the odds,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, who attended the bill signing.

“Legislation like this helps us stack the deck in their favor even more," she said. "We're also excited that the funding can be used to support vocational programs and other workforce development options.”

Demarco Mott says he knows the transformative effect higher education can have; he went through the foster care system and says he was able to attend Miami Dade College with a tuition waiver.

“That was my first experience in college. It was the foundation to my success, like I always say,” Mott said at the bill signing event.

Now Mott serves on the board of Educate Tomorrow, an MDC program that supports former foster youth, an initiative he himself benefitted from.

The law also sets aside funding to help foster families pay for child care — and increases stipends for relatives and family friends who become foster parents.

The legislation boosts monthly payments for certain relative and non-relative caregivers to the same level that other licensed foster parents currently receive.

“When a relative or close family friend steps up and fosters a child, it can be a very positive scenario for that child,” DeSantis said. “Yet right now, they do receive some assistance, but we recognize they needed to be at the same level as all other foster parents.”

Mott, the MDC grad who went through foster care, says the investment will help some of the state’s most vulnerable children get a better shot at a stable home and an advanced education.

“Whatever we're able to invest in our children now, we get that reward in our society later,” Mott said. “That joys my heart.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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