The New Jersey Tuition Waiver – Advocating for Education for Children in Foster Care
At a time when only a handful of states provided tuition coverage to eligible children in foster care, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) stepped to the plate and went to bat for the children in care in New Jersey. At the time, FAFS knew how important it was to bring the tuition waiver to the state. FAFS and its Board of Directors knew getting a Tuition Waiver Bill written and to the governor to sign into law would be a huge undertaking – especially considering the work load of the staff and the various offerings that were being provided to the foster care community through the organization.
However, FAFS also knew that this legislation would make a world of difference in the lives of children in care – especially to the older youth making the transition into adulthood. FAFS believed the state providing financial support in education would send a clear message that children in care are just as important as any other child, and they can succeed. A legislative committee spearheaded by then FAFS president, Janet Farrand, began to take steps in passing the New Jersey Tuition Waiver Bill in law.
While FAFS took the lead, it is important to note that many organizations and leaders banded together to make the tuition waiver a reality. FAFS eventually connected with former Assemblywoman and then Chair of the Assembly Family, Women and Children’s Services Committee, Mary Previte. FAFS asked Previte to write and introduce the bill and all worked to pass it. Once recruited, she became the lead sponsor of the New Jersey Tuition Waiver Bill on the Assembly side. She was a strong advocate and supporter for the legislation and was paramount in pushing the bill forward.
The bill was introduced to the Assembly on June 13, 2002. Once it reached the Senate, Senator Joseph Vitale, current member of FAFS’ Advisory Board, became the lead sponsor to help push the bill to completion. Kevin Ryan, then Chief of Staff for Governor James McGreevey and later Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), was another strong supporter. He brought in another important ally, a nonprofit in Newark, called the Covenant House. After a great amount of teamwork, the bill was passed on July 17, 2003. At the signing of the legislation, then Governor James McGreevy distributed the pens that signed the legal document, and the rest wasn’t history, but a promising future for children in care.
The New Jersey Tuition Waiver – The New Jersey Foster Children Scholars Program
With the passing of the Tuition Waiver Bill in 2003 came the inception of the New Jersey Foster Care Scholars Program (NJFC) at FAFS. The program was designed to provide funding for eligible youth who had experienced a DYFS (now DCP&P) out-of-home placement, DYFS independent living arrangement, transitional living program or homelessness seeking post-secondary education from an accredited college, university or a vocational/technical school. This was a life-changing opportunity as it opened the door for children in foster care to continue in their education and enhance their futures. The NJFC Program exists today because of the passage of the New Jersey Tuition Waiver Bill. Under the direction of FAFS, who administers the program for the state of NJ, the NJFC Scholars Program is alive and well today, and continues to flourish, changing the lives of many youth in care.
To learn more about the NJFC Scholars Program, click here.
The New Jersey Tuition Waiver – Hard Work Pays Off
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of FAFS’ staff, Board of Directors and many people from various organizations from around the state, now state and federal funding is available to meet the educational needs of children in foster care. The New Jersey Tuition Waiver gives hope to children in care and lets them know that if they also work hard in their endeavors, they will have a chance to pursue a higher education and change their lives for the better. To quote Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” The efforts of everyone involved in the New Jersey Tuition Waiver made the dreams of hundreds of children, realities.