JBAY to Back Governor Newsom’s Vision for Foster Care

Governor Newsom released his proposed budget last week and it included two important proposals for older youth in foster care.

First, he included a $20 million investment in higher education for foster youth that will allow all foster youth enrolled in post-secondary education to receive a Cal Grant of $6,000. Currently, foster youth enrolled in community college are eligible for a grant of $1,646, and while extremely helpful, it leaves them without adequate funding for housing and food. Costs such as these are commonly paid by parents, either directly or indirectly because the student lives at home.

“With this proposal, Governor Newsom is putting into place a critical piece of the puzzle to make college affordable and accessible for every foster youth,” according to Amy Lemley, JBAY Executive Director.

The second key investment proposed by Governor Newsom is to allow youth who turn age 21 to voluntarily remain in foster care until December 31, 2021. Currently, youth who turn 21 can remain in foster care until June 30, 2021. JBAY worked closely with the Newsom Administration on this policy.

“We are delighted that the Governor is proposing additional time to protect and assist foster youth in California,” said Lemley. “It shows the Administration understands the unique circumstances foster youth are facing during the pandemic.”

While both proposals are exciting, they are far from a done deal. With the Governor’s budget proposal released, the California State Legislature will now begin its budget deliberations and the process will culminate in a budget adopted and signed by July 1.

JBAY will be involved each step of the way, working with policy makers, public officials and young people to make sure the needs of youth who have been in foster care or homeless are front and center.

JBAY is Building More Onramps to Higher Education

When you are in high school struggling just to get by, it’s hard to see opportunities that can help break through the barriers to become a thriving adult. It’s even more difficult when those who are there to support you, including high school counselors and administrators, don’t know of programs to help you succeed.

One such opportunity is dual-enrollment. It gives high schoolers a taste of college, allowing them to take college courses for credit in high school. It also saves lots of money in tuition, since the college credits are free or low cost. Most importantly, students who participate in high-quality dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate high school, enter college, and graduate with a degree.

“Earning college credits while still in high school shows kids that they have what it takes to succeed,” says Amy Lemley, executive director of John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY).  “It can be a wonderful program, but it’s so frustrating that the youth who need that boost the most are those least likely to know about this option.”

Studies have shown that students who are most underrepresented in college—young men of color,  students from low-income families, and first generation college students—often benefit the most from dual enrollment. Yet it’s a program that’s mostly been used by families who already have experience with higher education. 

Despite the clear benefits, California has not officially implemented dual enrollment as a strategy to improve access to higher education for foster youth. As a result, high schools and community colleges across the state have faced significant barriers in advancing dual enrollment programs, including lacking the clear guidelines and protocols to establish the programs.

To remedy this, JBAY is partnering with the Career Ladders Project to help three college campuses offer dual enrollment to  youth with experience of  foster care, homelessness or juvenile justice. Through this collaboration, JBAY will develop a learning agenda, offer technical assistance to the campuses, and document challenges and successes. The lessons learned from these pilot programs will be used to create guidelines for other campuses to create their own programs.

“Ensuring that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to this program will not only give them more opportunities to succeed, but allow them to see their potential,” says Lemley. “We’re excited to be building more onramps to higher education. It’s one of the best routes out of generational poverty .”

JBAY Gears Up for Ambitious and Challenging Year of Policy Change

It’s Thanksgiving week, but at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), we are already busy thinking about the New Year, when the California State Legislature will return and we can get back to the important work of improving policies for youth who have been homeless or in foster care. In 2021, we’ll be focusing on our three main issues: housing, education and health.

In housing, we’ll be fighting to maintain funding for youth who become homeless after exiting foster care by sustaining the Transitional Housing Program. The program is currently scheduled to end in December 2021, despite its effectiveness and the tremendous need for it: a recent study of former foster youth in California found that over a thousand youth are homeless and waiting for housing.

In education, JBAY will be focused on ensuring the most vulnerable young adults succeed in higher education, which is a critical path to long-term economic security. First, we are proposing to expand access to NextUp, a student support program at 45 community colleges. The program is highly effective, but its reach is limited to a narrow subset of foster youth. We’ll work to modify the eligibility to make an estimated 1,000 additional young people able to receive the support they need.

Also in education, JBAY will assist the tens of thousands of college students struggling with homelessness and food insecurity by advocating for the creation of basic needs centers across the state. These “one-stop-shops” offer students food, housing referrals, help with financial aid and more. The data show that helping students with these traditionally non-academic needs is critical if we want them to maintain enrollment and graduate.

Finally, in health, we will work to ensure youth in foster care have access to reproductive and sexual health services.

Pressing for these kinds of changes is never easy and it certainly won’t be in 2021, with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the related economic impact on the state budget. But we know that young people need us more than ever. Unlike most youth and young adults, those who have been homeless or in foster care don’t have the benefit of parents or an extended family to assist them during this challenging time. Thank you to JBAY supporters who make this work possible. Next stop: Sacramento!

Student in library

New Law Extends Aid for Homeless Students

John Burton with foster youthGovernor Gavin Newsom last night signed legislation that will make California a national leader in supporting college students facing homelessness. Assembly Bill (AB) 2416, sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), requires colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when evaluating appeals for the loss of financial aid. 

John Burton, former president of the California State Senate and Chair of JBAY, welcomed the passage of AB 2416: “Taking away a person’s financial aid while they are struggling with homelessness is kicking them when they are down. It’s just not right. Thank you to the California State Legislature and Governor Newsom for keeping the door to higher education open for homeless students.”

California has seen a surge in homelessness among college students. A 2019 study found one in five of the state’s 2.1 million community college students experienced an episode of homelessness over the previous 12 months. A similar report on the 480,000 students attending California State University found that their rate of homelessness was one in ten.

Before this new law, students who became homeless often lost access to financial aid because they did not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). SAP typically requires students to maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least two-thirds of attempted courses.

“As a child, my family situation was unstable,” said Tisha Ortiz, speaking on behalf of JBAY to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. “I entered foster care at four years old, reunited with my family at eight, and then reentered foster care at 12, where I remained until I emancipated at 18 and was on my own.” 

After high school, Ortiz enrolled at Cal State East Bay but became homeless within a year of attending school due to a lack of family support. 

“Although my GPA was 2.7, the fact that I had withdrawn from classes when I became homeless disqualified me from financial aid,” said Ortiz. “There is no way that I can afford to attend school without financial aid. The appeals process has been very challenging and so I wasn’t able to enroll for this semester. I hope to return next year as I have just 24 units left to complete my bachelor’s degree.”

With AB 2416 taking effect on January 1, 2021, California’s homeless students will be able to count on their colleges providing more aid during the crises we face today and in the future.

Governor Signs Law To Improve Foster Youth Access to College Aid

Emmerald EvansGovernor Gavin Newsom signed new legislation late Monday to increase participation in college by foster youth by requiring state-funded agencies to assist foster youth in completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A pilot project by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) showed that this type of assistance raised foster youth FAFSA completion rates from just 45% in 2017 to 64% in 2020.

“For too long, far too many foster youth have been denied their dream of a college education because they were unable to obtain the financial aid available to them,” said Amy Lemley, executive director of JBAY, which sponsored the bill. “By following the model of JBAY’s FAFSA Challenge program, this new law will help foster youth access tens of millions of dollars of additional aid.” 

While 85 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college, just eight percent achieve a bachelor’s degree by age 26 compared with 46 percent of the general population. Only 46 percent of foster youth entering community college receive the Pell Grant and just 12 percent receive the CalGrant, despite the vast majority meeting the income eligibility criteria for this financial aid. The primary reason for this gap is that these youth are not successfully completing the complex and often daunting FAFSA process.

Testifying in support of SB860, Emmerald Evans, a Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), told the Senate Education Committee that the new law “will allow foster youth to have a reliable support system to help them prepare for college despite the disadvantages that they may face. Having financial aid literacy as well as support to get through all of the necessary steps in the process is vital. As a foster youth, not having the typical family background, I don’t have access to the types of resources that families typically provide like being able to live at home, having access to reliable transportation and of course getting financial support from family for educational costs like books, supplies, a computer and living expenses. This lack becomes even more challenging when a crisis like COVID-19 happens.”

The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

JBAY Advances College Success One Book at a Time

“This past year, I not only passed my classes but was able to significantly improve my grades thanks to the Burton Book Fund,” said Aja Dunlap, a former foster youth and junior at Sacramento State University. 

Aja is one of the 1,000 current and former foster youth served by the Burton Book Fund in the 2019-20 academic year. Since its launch in 2013, the Burton Book Fund has provided over $1.9 million to cover textbooks and critical needs costs to more than 7,700 current and former foster youth attending colleges in California. This academic year, over 1,000 youth attending 90 colleges will participate in the program.

From a lack of critical campus support resources to gaps in financial aid, foster youth continue to face significant barriers in accessing and succeeding in higher education. In order to address these barriers, the Burton Book Fund was established to ensure that students have sufficient support systems to pursue higher education. 

Over the past seven years, the Burton Book Fund has improved retention and degree completion rates by increasing student contact with campus support professionals throughout California. Through this process, students like Aja have partnered with their campuses in mobilizing to better serve foster and homeless youth.

This upcoming Fall, Aja will be entering her third year at Sacramento State and joining the Criminal Justice Fellowship to advance racial and economic justice. “I am so excited about this upcoming semester and opportunity to start taking upper division classes!” said Aja.

Aja was able to apply through the Burton Book Fund for the Guardian Scholars Program at Sacramento State. “The application process was pretty simple, straightforward, and I felt supported throughout it.” 

There are multiple ways you can support the Burton Book Fund, from spreading the word to donating books and resources. To donate to the fund, please visit the link here. To learn more about participation eligibility requirements, please visit the flyer for the 2020-21 program here