OLYMPIA – The Senate today overwhelmingly approved three bipartisan measures to help children and youth who are in foster care or experiencing homelessness.

Senate Bills 6222 and 6223, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would expand extended foster care eligibility and improve educational opportunities and outcomes.

Senate Bill 6274 , sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, would create a new pathway to earn post-secondary credentials and degrees through college or apprenticeship programs in the Passport to Careers program.

“Improving the educational and overall circumstances of youth in foster care has been a key priority for me for years and it was one of the reasons that led me to elected office,” Carlyle said. “Each year, hundreds of young adults exit the foster care system and are left to make their way forward in life without the support networks that many of us take for granted. They absolutely need and deserve our support.

“Similarly, youth in foster care or experiencing homelessness deserve an equal shot at the education they need to adequately prepare for their future. We have to do better at coordinating programs and policies that affect them and to ensure accountability.”

“We need to put our children on the best path to success, whether it is in software development and clean technology or in teaching, the arts and human services,” Ranker said. “However, not everyone learns the same way or sees college as the best path forward for their success. We need to help children find the right path to success through college or apprenticeship learning.”

Senate Bill 6222 would grant young people access to the Department of Social and Health Services’ Extended Foster Care (EFC) program until the age of 21. Eligibility is currently capped at age 19. Youths would no longer need to have been in foster care at age 18 to utilize the program and they would be allowed to un-enroll and re-enroll an unlimited amount of times, subject to certain conditions, instead of only once. Senate Bill 6222 passed unanimously.

Senate Bill 6223 would require state departments and agencies to work with aligned non-governmental organizations to create a plan to facilitate educational equity between children and youth in foster care and their peers in Washington’s general student population, and to close disparities between racial and ethnic groups. The bill would require similar action with respect to children and youth experiencing homelessness. The bill passed on a 45-2 vote.

Senate Bill 6274 would expand the innovative and wildly successful Passport to College Promise program that Carlyle helped create in 2007 as a citizen activist prior to winning election to the Legislature.

The bill would create a Passport to Careers program with two pathways. The first would incorporate the Passport to College Promise program and expand it to include people who have experienced homelessness and those who have spent time in a tribal or federal foster care system. The second pathway, the Passport to Apprenticeship Opportunities, would establish a program of financial assistance to allow foster youth or youth who have experienced homelessness to pursue registered apprenticeships. That bill passed on a 35-12 vote.

“There is a huge need to expand access and opportunity for children, particularly those who do not have the ease of access and support of most families,” Ranker said. “With stronger services to guide children through junior high school and high school, these children will have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

All three bills now head to the House of Representatives for further consideration.