Children and teens in foster care across California will be able to attend state and community colleges free of charge under legislation signed into law this week.

Through the new Fostering Futures program, the state will allocate $25 million to cover tuition for foster youth attending a California State University, University of California or a community college, according to state Sen. Angelique Ashby’s office.

The funding also covers the cost of housing, books and food.

A student walks near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA on April 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

A student walks near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA on April 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new law, foster children in California will have their tuition covered if they attend a state or community college.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Far too many foster youth want to go to college, and are unable to afford it,” Ashby, who authored the bill, said in a statement. “This funding will ensure that California’s most vulnerable young people can take agency over their lives by seeking higher education.”

There are approximately 60,000 children in the state’s foster care system and lawmakers say the vast majority of them, or 96%, want to receive higher education.

While 64% of foster youth graduate high school in California, only 4% currently obtain a four-year college degree, according to Ashby.

The bill became law as part of a budget agreement signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

“For foster youth who have lost everything, this bill provides hope that they can attend college without crippling debt—taking one critical step toward our state’s goal of making college attainable for all, and making foster youth the first to achieve debt-free college in California,” Ashby said.

Shane Harris, a former foster child who now leads the nonprofit People’s Association of Justice Advocates told KFMB-TV the funding is “a tremendous victory for foster youth across California.”

“Who wouldn’t want to go to college for free, and especially when you’re in the situations many of us have been in?” said Harris, a San Diego resident who has supported the bill as it moved through the legislative process.

“When you lose your parents, you don’t have the support system, you’re trying to make it through all these different challenges, and then you go to pay for college?”

Harris told the station he plans to launch an outreach campaign to spread awareness about the new program.

“In the state of California, your dreams are possible, you can become anything you want to be, and now you can go to college for free,” he said. 

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