Congress Considers Measure Giving School Choice to Foster Kids

Published February 1, 2008

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has introduced in Congress the School Choice for Foster Kids Act, a measure that would amend an existing federal program to allow states to offer K-12 tuition scholarships to children in foster care.

Bachmann, who has served as a foster parent to 23 children, discussed how her personal experience motivated her to offer the legislation this past December.

“In my own family, several of our foster children were forced to change schools simply because we lived in a different school district than their previous foster parents,” Bachmann explained. “My bill helps foster children avoid this displacement and gives foster parents the opportunity to choose a school that best suits their child’s needs.”

Extending Opportunities

Through the Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program, the federal government provides funding to states to support programs that aim to help youths transition from foster care to independence. For example, $60 million is made available to states annually to provide education and job training vouchers to older youths in foster care.

Bachmann’s legislation would amend the program to allow states to offer tuition scholarships to younger children as well, since younger foster children also face challenges in school.

“It would allow foster parents to send a child to his or her original school, or to choose a school that can undertake the unique challenges their foster child may face,” Bachmann explained. “Instead of separating foster children from trusted friends and teachers, we should give them the opportunity to stay at a school if it is fulfilling their needs.”

Proven Reform

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) applauded the legislation.

“A quality education is a passport out of poverty for millions of American children, and all students should be able to attend schools that best serve their unique needs,” Boehner said. “I applaud Congresswoman Bachmann for introducing legislation to ensure our nation’s foster children have that chance. Government’s role should be to tear down obstacles between at-risk children and opportunities to learn and grow in the classroom.”

Bachmann’s legislation follows similar reforms at the state level. In 2006 Arizona enacted a tuition scholarship program for foster children with the support of Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat.

Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank in Phoenix, discussed the bipartisan support the initiative earned in Arizona.

“When it comes to foster care children, Arizona legislators set aside partisan battles to put the kids’ interests first,” Olsen said. “Today, 131 children in Arizona who faced so many challenges in their young lives now attend the best schools in the state that put their needs first.”

Stable Education

The Arizona program, enacted in 2006, has inspired other states to offer similar scholarship options. The American Legislative Exchange Council adopted model legislation for a foster child scholarship program in early 2007, and legislators in Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, and Texas considered similar bills.

If Bachmann’s legislation is enacted, states also would have the option of using existing federal funding to offer K-12 scholarships to foster children.

Bachmann hopes her bill will earn the same bipartisan support in Congress as Arizona’s did.

“I was pleased to introduce the School Choice for Foster Kids Act with coauthor Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN),” Bachmann said. “Our bill is about helping foster children gain access to quality, stable educations earlier in life. I hope this Congress will serve these children and move our bill forward.”

Dan Lips ([email protected]) is an education analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

For more information …

School Choice for Foster Kids Act (HR 4311):