Oregon considers free college tuition for foster kids

Oregon considers free college tuition for foster kids

EUGENE, Ore. - Free tuition for foster kids: Some state lawmakers in Salem say it'll give troubled teens a better future.

A proposal to waive the college tuition for students who have been in Oregon's foster care system got a hearing in Salem on Tuesday. Supporters of the idea say a state-funded investment in those students can have a big efffect on their future sucess.

Jamie Hinsz, a student at the University of Oregon, was in the state foster care system. She was in Salem to testify in front of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education.

"We're foster youth and we don't have the support that our peers on campus at colleges have from their families," Hinsz told lawmakers.

Hinsz said without financial support and paying her own tuition, she has struggled.

"During breaks I don't have the luxury of going home," Hinsz said, "because I have two jobs that I can't leave for that time or else I lose my job."

Regan Gray with the Oregon Foster Youth Connection is supporting the bill. She said that for many kids who end up in Oregon's foster care program, a college education is out of reach.

"The idea of not having any sort of financial support from a family member or any sort of connections outside of the foster care system, it's very difficult to attend higher education," Gray said.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Democrat Michael Dembrow of Portland, said the waiver is the right thing to do. "These kids are Oregon's kids," Dembrow said. "They're our kids and usually we expect parents to help pay for some college costs."

Pamela Butler with the Oregon Foster Youth Connection said more than half of the state's foster youth end up on public assistance. "They're mostly living in low-income households and we need to break that cycle and to give the youth a fighting chance," Butler said.

Hinsz said for foster kids, the Legislature is the parents. "This is us asking our parents for help with college," Hinsz said.

The cost of the program to taxpayers is still to be determined.