Madison - Wisconsin's veterans could have more options for school when they return to the Badger state, foster parents will have more say in the future of the children they care for, and there will be more incentives for adopting children.
On Wednesday, a bill authored by State Senator Alberta Darling to allow the Wisconsin GI Bill to be used to attend private, non-profit institutions received a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Universities, Technical Colleges, Children and Families. Senator Darling says she hopes her bill will help keep veterans in Wisconsin.
"Our veterans bravely served this nation and bring leadership and value to our communities," Darling said, "This bill gives vets more options to continue their education here and find a job in Wisconsin after they complete their degree."
Under Senate Bill 537, veterans would receive a grant of up to $2,000 per semester or session directed toward tuition. Any participating institution would be required to provide a matching grant to the student. The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities estimates Senator Darling's bill could assist more than 700 veterans.
Also on Wednesday, the committee heard two bills authored by Senator Darling which will help foster families and encourage more adoptions in Wisconsin.
Senate Bill 532 allows foster parents to be a party to a proceeding in a change in placement case for children who have been with the foster parent for over 6 months. On average, foster kids go through 2.5 changes in placements. According to the Department of Public Instruction, 34% of 17 and 18-year-olds in the child welfare system experience 5 or more school changes. Students lost 4-6 months of academic progress with each change.
"Changing homes is very traumatic for kids. They lose the brief stability they had, often switch schools, and need to learn a new daily routine," Darling said, "Foster parents should have standing in courts when determining a change in placements for kids who have been part of their family for more than six months."
Senate Bill 533 will expand eligibility for adoption assistance to include children over seven years old or with one sibling. Under current law, families are eligible for adoption assistance for a child over 10 years of age or with a sibling group of three or more. This change will help more foster youth find permanency with an adoptive family.
"This bill will help more foster youth find permanency, keep siblings together, and aid adoptive families," Darling said, "Too many Wisconsin kids are aging out of care. As a state, we need to do more to help kids find permanency. This bill helps adoptive parents to take on complex adoptions for our kids who need loving homes."
All three bills need to be approved by the committee before going to the full Senate for a vote.