MADISON, Wis. - Many college students across Wisconsin are heading back to school for the start of the spring semester.
For the large majority of students in the foster care system, however, going to college is rarely a reality.
A new bill being discussed at the Capitol would aim to change that culture. Any foster kid between 13 and 25 years old would be eligible for a grant of up to $30,000 per year to attend several colleges and schools within the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College systems.
According to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the legislation would help get foster children on the right track.
"It's a big need because what's happening, we're finding out, is kids that age out of the foster care system, many of them end up in trouble,” Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, said. “They end up in jail. And it's not that they want to, but they end up getting into trouble."
According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, out of the over 7,000 children in foster care in 2016, about 300 kids aged out of the system. A large majority of these students want to continue their education, a state task force on foster care discovered, but many students don’t have the money or resources to pursue a college education.
“Once the child is out of the foster care system and they age out, they're technically on their own. A lot of foster parents continue to help their foster kids out, however, a lot of them don't," Novak said.
If the bill is passed, local colleges could potentially offer foster children over $100,000 in grants and remissions in 2019. Students would continue to receive support as long as they are enrolled.
Lawmakers agree the fact that these grants are available to kids as young as 13 years old will boost high school performance.
“It gives them something,” Novak said. “If they know they have the ability to go to vocational school or to college, they're going to be doing better in high school too because they know they're going to need to keep their grades up."
A public hearing on the bill was held on Thursday.