Fostering Opportunity and Improving Achievement: The Benefits of a Foster-Care Scholarship Program in California, by Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., PRI associate director of Education Studies, and Evelyn B. Stacey, policy fellow, finds that adopting a Florida-style foster-care scholarship program in California would have no negative impact to state and public-school budgets, improve school stability and the provision of specialized education services for foster-care students, and could help encourage adoptions by expanding access to high quality schools.
“A leading concern among potential adoptive parents is being unable to provide for a child’s education, especially since children in foster care are more likely to have special needs and are at greater risk of attending low- performing schools,” said Dr. Murray. “A foster-care scholarship program modeled after Florida’s successful programs would help alleviate this concern—particularly when the state cannot afford to increase monthly stipends to recommended levels and the supply of foster families is dwindling. This is an important policy consideration because foster families typically have below average household incomes.”
California is the logical state to embrace Florida’s successful reform model because it has the country’s largest foster-care population with about 73,000 children and youth in the state’s system at any given time. This population is considered among the most at-risk academically. Permanent, loving homes improve their chances for success in school and life, but only about 40 percent of waiting foster-care children are adopted each year.
Florida: A Model of Success for the Sunshine State
To ensure parents can access schools that best meet their children’s needs, Florida students who are low-income, in foster-care, in or assigned to failing schools are eligible for scholarships averaging less than $4,000. Florida students with special needs may also use scholarships averaging less than $7,000 to attend schools that work best for them. These programs have improved the educational outcomes of participating Florida students as well as public-school performance overall.
In just over a decade, Florida has turned a fourth-grade reading deficit on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of five points or more among the most disadvantaged student populations, compared to California and the country, into gains equivalent to three full grades within current appropriation levels. In fact, official government analyses found that for every dollar spent just on non-special education scholarships Florida gains $1.49 in education funding.
Under California’s current public-schooling system it would require up to $145 million in additional spending just for foster-care students to achieve similar gains. A California Foster-Care Scholarship Program could achieve comparable results without the additional cost. In fact, the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that a Florida-style scholarship program for students in foster care would have no negative impact to state and public-school budgets, and would likely generate savings for both.
“Adopting a Florida-style foster-care scholarship program is an academically and fiscally responsible education reform that could improve the chances that more deserving California children would find loving, permanent homes, and a better future,” concluded Dr. Murray.