Legislature(2007 - 2008)BUTROVICH 205
03/05/2007 01:30 PM HEALTH, EDUCATION & SOCIAL SERVICES
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SB 76-TUITION FOR CERTAIN CHILDREN 1:58:16 PM CHAIR BETTYE DAVIS announced SB 76 to be up for consideration. SENATOR ELLIS, sponsor of SB 76, said that the bill concerns the collection of education funds for foster youth who age out of the system and who often do not succeed in life afterwards. He said that Missouri has a similar program that allows the funding of education accounts for children leaving foster care at the age of 18; SB 76 would establish such a program in Alaska to allow churches, individuals, charities, and community organizations to open accounts for the purposes of these youths' college education. The accounts would be managed through the University of Alaska (UA)'s college savings account program. The donations could be used for any educational endeavor, from vocational education to college. He added that many foster children have suffered from abuse and neglect, and their caretakers cannot be expected to provide education savings for them. The bill will help foster youth become more productive citizens. CHAIR DAVIS said that she thinks the bill will be successful and she looks forward to helping it pass through. MIKE LESMANN, Community Relations Manager for the Office of Children's Services (OCS), said that the OCS is very supportive of the bill. The Faith-based and Community Initiatives Office of the DHSS is also in support of the bill, and together the offices look forward to developing information-sharing procedures with the UA and directing monies donated to the program. 2:05:16 PM SENATOR COWDERY asked what will happen to the money if a foster child doesn't use it. GABE ACEVES, Staff to Senator Ellis, replied that the beneficiary name on a given account can be changed if a youth decides not to use the money. 2:06:35 PM TERRA HORTON, Faith Based and Community Initiatives, said that as a social worker she is aware of the challenges facing foster youth. They are at a higher risk for many factors such as poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, etc.; few are able to pursue their desires for further education, financial difficulties being the major deterrent. This bill would diminish the financial challenge to these kids and let them lead more self- sufficient, productive lives. 2:09:31 PM SENATOR ELLIS thanked Ms. Horton for her participation in the program. 2:10:03 PM JIM LYNCH, Associate Vice President of Finance for the University of Alaska, said that the UA supports SB 76 and has participated in drafting the bill to see that it works in unison with the college savings program. He said that the importance of a college account creates or intensifies aspirations of foster youth and it is an outstanding program that has no downsides. The money can be switched around between beneficiaries and will be invested as well. 2:12:25 PM SENATOR ELLIS said that Mr. Lynch helped with making sure that the legislation would work smoothly with the UA program. MR. ACEVES explained that a provision in the bill makes children in long-term, out-of-state foster care the highest funding priority. The department may establish specific criteria as well as the donors, but the two most important criteria are the age of the child and the length of their stay in out-of-home care. DAVIS asked if a child who ages out of the system can use the funds at any point or they must do so immediately. MR. ACEVES replied that the funds are good until the youth reaches the age of 30. MR. LYNCH added that there is no practical limitation within the college savings program. 2:16:50 PM CHIP WAGONER, the Executive Director for the Alaska Conference of Catholic Bishops (ACCB), said that the bill is important because the government cannot do everything in terms of providing for youth; the community needs to take some of the responsibility. The bill will provide a needed boost for foster youth, and marketing the program is particularly important because people, corporations, and non-profits need to know about it to participate. CHAIR DAVIS remarked that Alaskans are known to be giving people, and the program will be successful. She added that the bill will be brought before the committee in the near future.