She was born in one of the more impoverished nations. Her parents took her to an orphanage at age 3 because they could no longer feed her. She grew up in foster care in Haiti and then in Kansas.
But Jasmine Martin will start summer classes next month at the University of Kansas. A little-known Kansas law says she can take college classes for free. She wants to study political science, anthropology and maybe more.
“This is a dream come true for me,” she said. “I had thought there was no way to go to college.”
But what’s good for former foster care children is not always good financially for Kansas universities and other schools. The state makes the schools cover the cost of education for students who were formerly in foster care, while providing no money for that purpose.
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The Kansas Foster Child Educational Assistance Act waives tuition and fees at state universities, tech schools, community colleges and Washburn University for students who were foster children.
It can create budget woes that can then short-change efforts on behalf of other students.
“The foster care students deserve an education, and we provide the best that we can for them,” said Sheree Utash, president of Wichita Area Technical College. “But for us, the law is a huge liability. By law, we can’t just waive the costs – we have to pay for the students’ costs with our scholarship money. And every year, you have no idea how many (former foster care) students you’ll get.”
Under the law, WATC has waived $138,000 in tuition and fees for 109 students since 2010.
Wichita State University has provided $153,084 in tuition and fees for 20 students over the past two semesters, said Sheelu Surender, director of financial aid.
The potential future market for this law includes the 7,048 children of all ages who were living in state foster care as of March – 987 of them in Sedgwick County, said Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Nobody disputes that the law dramatically improves a former foster care student’s access to an advanced education.
“I’m glad it does that,” Utash said.
Most of these young adults have slim chances of getting an education otherwise, and the law levels the field for them, said Jennifer Fry, who taught English to International Baccalaureate students at East High School and who now mentors students and their parents through the college admissions process.
“When I saw that KU sign in the front yard of (Jasmine Martin’s) group home, saying she was going to KU – I got emotional about it,” said Fry, who has mentored Martin. “She works at McDonald’s, takes Uber to get there and does everything on her own. She’s a hero, as far as I’m concerned, and now she gets to go to college.”
One thing about Martin’s story bothers Fry.
“I’m horrified, actually,” said Fry, who now runs a college advisement business. “As a teacher, I’d never heard of this law. So teachers don’t know. Parents and guardians don’t know this exists. And I’m wondering how many other high school teachers and counselors don’t know about it either. We could perhaps help a lot more kids like her.”
Nationally, 28 states offer some form of assistance to former foster children, according to the Education Commission of the States, an education policy group.
“We are interested in giving access here to everyone, and especially to the neediest students,” said Surender, WSU’s director of financial aid.
None of this help guarantees an education to these students, Fry said. There’s still the cost of books, transportation, food, dormitory rooms or other housing. Martin says she’ll make up the difference by working and with financial aid.
And there’s more needed, Fry said. It’s not all about money.
“It would be a godsend if we could drum up mentors for Jasmine as she goes off to school,” Fry said.