Only three percent of kids aging out of Florida’s foster care system receive a college degree. The state pays their tuition and offers a stipend for living expenses until they turn 23. Advocates say it’s helping, but the stipend is under attack as state lawmakers try to balance the budget with two billion fewer dollars.
Derrick Riggins was first placed in foster care at two. He was beaten, sexually abused and shipped from home to home. “I went back to my mother and then eventually around the age of 12, 13 I was placed in foster care.”
When he turned 18, Derrick fled, enrolled at FAMU and paid his bills with student loans. It was a struggle to make ends meet.
Derrick didn’t know the state offers free tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses to kids who aged out of the foster care system. When he found out, it made all the difference.
He graduated at 23, enrolled in grad school at FSU and received a master’s degree. “Without that I wouldn’t be standing here today, an intern in Washington DC, working on the Senate Finance Committee, getting ready for law school. These dollars truly help.”
The independent living program that helped Derrick is being targeted for budget cuts. State revenues are down two billion dollars. Lowering the age limit on the stipend from 23 to 21 could save 11 million dollars.
Christina Spudeas is with “Florida’s Kids First”. “(for) The ones that are really succeeding it will be a disincentive and it will stop them from being able to finish.”
Christina says the cut would pull the rug out from under students, just as they’re getting to their feet. “That’s when they are really becoming really stable and that’s the time when they need that support just to finish that college degree.”
Next Monday Children’s Week begins at the state capitol. Advocates will take their message to lawmakers hoping to save the program in a tough budget year.
Another reason advocates argue former foster kids need more time to graduate from college is because, they switch schools so many times that their academic records sometimes get lost. In many cases they don’t finish high school until they are 19 or 20.