Jul. 02, 2019

HARRISBURG – Rep. Dave Hickernell’s (R-Lancaster/Dauphin) Fostering Independence Through Education Waiver legislation was signed into law by the governor Friday as part of House Bill 1615. The new law will assist children in foster care with the challenges of accessing higher educational opportunities.

“This measure will now allow children who have been dealt a very bad hand in life, to access higher education opportunities. I am so humbled to have been able to champion this legislation that will open so many doors to foster children in Pennsylvania,” Hickernell said.

Since being elected to the House, Hickernell has been a strong advocate for foster children and foster families.

“Early on in my career here, I had the opportunity to sponsor legislation to establish commonsense measures to ensure that foster parents get the support necessary to provide a nurturing, healthy home environment for the children in their care. That bill became law in 2005. In 2015, I ushered into law my Activities and Experiences for Children in Out-of-Home Placement Act.”

Garry Krentz of the Pennsylvania State Resource Association, one of the leading advocacy organizations for foster children, praised the passage of this legislation, saying the bill furthers his organization’s mission of improving the quality of family life in Pennsylvania and advancing meaningful child welfare policy and practice.

“Youth who are removed from their families by no fault of their own and placed in the foster care system were at a huge disadvantage,” Krentz said. “Rep. Hickernell's efforts will impact thousands of youth placed in the system by allowing them to go to college. Not only will they better themselves but many will come back and improve the economy and their communities as workers, lawyers, judges or advocates. With this new law, we can truly say that Pennsylvania has changed the lives of so many youth and also changed child welfare here for the better.”

Specifically, the Fostering Independence Through Education Waiver will:

• Create the Fostering Independence Waiver program, a tuition and fee waiver program for youth who are in foster care, who were adopted from the foster care system, or who have “aged out” of foster care, to be made available by institutions of higher education: private colleges and universities, state-supported postsecondary educational institutions, including state-owned universities, state-related universities, community colleges, and other state-aided postsecondary educational institutions.
• Set forth eligibility criteria for participation in the program, including the maintenance of satisfactory progress in postsecondary educational work and be a current resident of this Commonwealth.
• Require a coordinated effort by state agencies to prepare and provide program information and information on all available federal and state grants to be disseminated by county agencies, Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), and institutions of higher education to identified individuals who may be eligible for a tuition waiver.
• Require each institution of higher education to designate a staff person or persons as the point of contact for eligible individuals, to provide them with information concerning this program and other assistance that may be available to them.
• Require PDE, with the assistance of Department of Human Services, to evaluate retention rates of students who participate in the program and make recommendations on how to improve the program to maximize its effectiveness.

“I began this effort because more than 22,000 Pennsylvania youth are in foster care and each year more than 1,000 of these children ‘age out’ of the system. Sadly, only 50% of foster youth graduate from high school, only 20% go on to college, and less than 10% complete their postsecondary education” Hickernell said.

“Emancipated foster youth, who do not have parents to rely on for support and guidance, already suffer unique disadvantages compared to other students,” Hickernell said. “One of the other critical hurdles for this student population is finding the financial resources to fund their education. While the General Assembly cannot replace parents, it can certainly help eliminate or greatly reduce the financial barriers to higher education for these students.”

Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner