Working to transform the child welfare system.

HB 1969: Creating and funding a school choice scholarship program for foster students

HB 1969 creates the Foster Student Scholarship Program by adding new sections to RCW chapter 43.216 and RCW 82.04.

The purpose of the program is to provide children and youth in foster care with the option to attend the public or private school of their caregiver’s choice.

A student is eligible to receive a scholarship to enroll and attend a participating school if:

  • The student has been accepted for admission;
  • The caregiver submits a scholarship application; and
  • Sufficient moneys are available in the Foster Student Scholarship Account.

Furthermore, a program participant who is in foster care remains qualified until their graduation from high school or their 21st birthday. Additionally, if the participant has exited the foster care system, they continue to be eligible throughout the school year and for 1 additional year thereafter. Finally, biological siblings of a child or youth in foster care also qualifies for the program through the school year and 1 additional school year.

The annual scholarship amount must be equal to the lesser of either:

  • Annual cost per pupil of the participating school at which the program participant is accepted for admission; or
  • $10,000.

The participating school may use the scholarship moneys for educational purposes, and may provide educational services to the program participant directly or contract with a third party.

A program participant who is denied admission may transfer his/her scholarship to a participating school with enrollment capacity.

DCYF is required to administer the program and perform the following duties:

  • Provide an annual list of participating schools;
  • Create standard forms, which includes the scholarship application;
  • Establish a process to bar a school from participating in the program;
  • Establish a process to notify eligible students and their caregivers, as well as program participants of the department’s decision to bar a school from participating in the program;
  • Establish standards for participating schools related to administrative, financial, and academic accountability with the state auditor’s office, the state Board of Education, and OSPI;
  • Conduct satisfaction surveys;
  • Receive contributions for the program;
  • Notify the Department of Revenue regarding the receipt of contributions; and
  • Adopt rules necessary to implement the program.

Therefore, DCYF must submit a program report by December 1st, 2021, and biannually thereafter, which must contain:

  • The number of eligible students applying for the program;
  • The number of program participants;
  • Educational outcomes;
  • List of participating schools and participants at each school;
  • Amount of scholarship moneys awarded;
  • Administrative costs of the program;
  • Fund balance of the Foster Student Scholarship Account; and
  • Recommendations for statutory improvements for the program.

Section 2 adds a chapter to RCW 43.216 which creates the Foster Student Scholarship Account in the custody of the state treasurer.

This act also includes information and requirements regarding tax preferences and a tax credit for taxpayers. The legislature categorizes the tax preference as one intended to incentivize taxpayers to make contributions to the Foster Student Scholarship Account. A new chapter is added to RCW 82.04 which includes:

  1. a person must make a contribution before claiming a credit;
  2. no person may claim more than $200,000 in any calendar year;
  3. a tax credit may not be carried over to another year;
  4. credits are available on a first in-time basis; and
  5. that no application is necessary for the tax credit.

Finally, section 5 specifies that section 1 of HB 1969 takes effect once the contributions to the Foster Student Scholarship Account exceed $1.5m dollars, or on July 1st, 2020, whichever date is later. Additionally, DCYF must provide a written notice of the effective date to all affected parties.