Update: On May 12, 2016, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2665, which funds and authorizes a statewide expansion of FosterEd: Arizona.
The bill, which has more than 20 bipartisan sponsors, requires charter schools to give enrollment preference to children who are in foster care, and establishes a statewide Foster Youth Education Success Program for the purpose of improving the educational outcomes of children in Arizona’s foster care system, said Michelle Traiman, director of FosterEd at the National Center for Youth Law.
“There’s a lot of work to be done here, and I’m really honored to steward this through so far,” Allen said during a webinar in late February. “What this bill does is it adds a little bit of structure, it adds a little bit of preference, but it also says we are going to pull for you all the way through the system.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Arizona Legislature approved many programs to protect the legal rights of children in foster care, including the Foster Care Review Board, CASA, and guardian ad litem, said Allen, chairman of the Committee on Children and Family Affairs.
“Unfortunately, we have not put a component in that that deals with education, and that’s what we’re doing today,” Allen said.
“We’re adding another seat at the table of people who are going to follow a student through this difficult, ugly time in their life and say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s not let you fall completely off on your education,’ ” Allen said.
The bill has champions on both sides of the aisle in the House and in the Senate, said Pete Hershberger, director of FosterEd: Arizona, the Pima County pilot project which is an initiative of the National Center for Youth Law.
“It passed the House overwhelmingly (in March),” Hershberger said. It had passed two committees pretty quickly in the Senate, and now it’s waiting in rules.”
The bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 17, 2016 and it received a due pass recommendation.
Arizona Capitol Television: Rep. Allen at the Senate Education Committee – March 17, 2016
During the committee meeting, Sen. David Bradley of Tucson said, “In my many years working with foster kids, if I got to ask one question about it a kid it would be, ‘What’s the likelihood they’re going to get a high school diploma or a GED?’ If the answer to that question is no, I can tell you with about 80 percent probability their destiny, and it is not good.”
“This program is really vital to the success of getting our kids to escape the situations that brought them into care and to escape the poverty that will surround them if they don’t get at least a high school diploma, but even more important getting them on to college,” Bradley said.
“When the budget is done, hopefully there won’t be so much acrimony that they just close down the session,” said Hershberger, who represented the 26th District in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 to 2008.
“Members in both the House and the Senate have some really vested interest in bills still out there,” Hershberger said. “I’m hoping that it quickly goes through rules, committee of the whole, and third read and gets to the governor.”
Allen said bill is a good tool in efforts to improve education for foster children across the state.
“We are making an effort here to improve our system so that when we have calmer days, we are going to be a leader,” Allen said. “Right now, we are managing a tsunami and we are going to use every tool in our toolbox we need to work this.”
But the bill, like many others, remains in committee until the Arizona Legislature passes a budget. Gov. Doug Ducey has said he doesn’t want any more bills on his desk until the budget is done.