Members of the Mississippi Youth Voice, adorates, foster youth, and Mississippi Site Director, Samantha Kalahar (middle) at the Mississippi State Capitol, February 3rd, 2022.

We are proud to announce that, with the help of First Place for Youth, Mississippi is moving towards becoming the 36th state to pass a tuition waiver for foster youth! House Bill 1313 would allow for a tuition waiver program to be created to provide post-secondary financial assistance to students who have been engaged in the Mississippi foster care system.

On February 3rd, 2022 the bill was introduced and amended to become the Kinkade Scholarship for Foster Youth named in honor of current state representative and former foster youth Bill Kinkade from Byhalia. The bill not only received a unanimous vote in favor of passage, all representatives were added on as co-authors of the legislation– a monumental step for such an intricate bill.

First Place’s Mississippi Site Director (and former foster youth!) Samantha Kalahar shared that the proposed program would have a “significant impact” on Mississippi teens leaving the foster care system.

“Getting so many stakeholders together to make college available to foster youth seems daunting, but absolutely everyone associated with this effort has not only been supportive but went above and beyond to find ways to say, YES!”

Over 30 representatives of the MS foster care system attended the vote and were recognized in the galleries. Former foster youth, foster care agencies, foster care advocates and leadership from Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services (MDCPS) rallied around this effort.

“What we are trying to do with this bill is give [foster youth] a hand-up to get them in, whether it’s a trade school, whether it’s a junior college or a four-year college,” said House Representative Richard Bennett.

House Bill 1313 was put forward by an alliance including First Place for Youth’s Mississippi Youth Voice (MSYV) program, which could provide funding to cover tuition, fees, and room and board for youth in the custody of Child Protective Services or after their 14th birthday.

In prep for the presentation of the bill, members of MSYV participated in House Education Committee hearings, hosted an informational webinar, met with leadership from MDCPS, Community College Boards, Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning, and the Mississippi Association of Child Caring Association.

Former foster youth and MSYV member Scentrellis Dixon shared his perspective with AP News correspondent, Emily Wagster Pettus, on the potential impact of the bill being made into law:

“It opens the door for a lot more foster kids to feel like they can actually go to college and complete it. I feel like a lot of emphasis is put on the ‘getting to college’ part and not on the ‘staying in college’ part. With this bill… you no longer have to worry about the financial hurdle of staying in college.”

The bill is waiting on Senate approval. But with strongly voiced support from Mississippi State Governor Tate Reeves, we are optimistic for success! Stay tuned for updates as we forge forward on this critical piece of legislation for Mississippi foster youth!