Written Testimony

Illinois Senate Human Services Committee

May 8, 2018

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, Chairperson Morrison, Vice-Chair Biss, Minority Spokesperson Syverson, and members of the committee. I am writing today to express our support for the DCFS Tuition and Fee Waivers as laid out in HB 5122.

My name is Kate Danielson and I am the executive director of Foster Progress, an organization dedicated to the goal of increasing the number of youth from foster care who access and succeed in higher education.

As a former high school English teacher, an adoptive mother, and the daughter of first generation college graduates, I know first hand the power higher education can have in lifting entire families out of poverty and ending cycles of abuse and neglect.

The correlation between the foster care system and the criminal justice system is far too strong. I believe that giving youth an opportunity to pursue a brighter future through higher education is the best way to disrupt that pipeline.

We know from the 2011 Chapin Hall study on youth aging out of foster care that 86% of youth say that they would like to go to college, but that less than 7% will graduate with a degree. The study also points out that the number one barrier to students graduating is having enough money to pay for college and support themselves. HB 5122 would go far to eliminate this obstacle.

Members of the committee, foster youth have been let down by their parents and so many others. So many of these youth have lived through horrendous situations most of us can’t imagine. Without family and friends to guide them and provide them with the financial and personal support all teens need, too many end up homeless or in jail.

One of our high school seniors that is currently in the mentoring program is currently living with his foster mother in East Garfield Park. When I interviewed Jeremiah, he told me, “I used to be bad.” I asked him what changed him, and he said, “Between the ages of 13-17, I saw 6 friends - close friends - get shot and killed due to gun violence in my neighborhood. I’ve been to too many funerals. I don’t want that to happen to me; I don’t want to be another statistic.”

Jeremiah joined our program to get the support needed to make it out of his neighborhood, out of foster care, and into a successful adulthood. Ironically, two days ago Jeremiah was walking home from work with a friend, talking on his phone to his long-time girlfriend, when he was shot in the leg. Understandably, Jeremiah was upset. He had made all the right decisions to stay out of trouble and yet still ended up in the hospital with a gunshot wound. Luckily, his leg will heal and he is more determined than ever to get a higher education.

As you can imagine, neither Jeremiah’s biological family nor his foster family will help him pay for tuition. He plans to attend community college in the fall because he can get the tuition and fee reimbursement through DCFS for any cost that the MAP and Pell grants may not cover. Going to community college means living in the same foster home, though, and in the same neighborhood where he was just a victim of gun violence. Given a tuition-free education at a public university would open up more opportunities for Jeremiah to be safe while bettering himself.

Foster youth are our collective responsibility and this bill shows that we will do what we can to help them make a better, stable future for themselves. The students we work with at Foster Progress are hardworking and have grit. They want a better life that includes a stable career and home. College is an essential step to create that future, but it is expensive, and they have so little already. With this bill they truly have a much better chance to make that a reality. Please vote to approve HB 5122 today.

Foster Progress ℅ Platform Coworking 4422 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60640
www.foster-progress.org        (773) 793-0951        
info@foster-progress.org