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So imagine Andrew Masters' joy when he received a letter giving him a small grant to go to community college.
"I called everyone right away. I was like... I was just so happy ... because I'm actually going to college," said Andrew.
State leaders want to make more college dreams happen for foster children. California Treasurer Bill Lockyer is proposing to set up CalSAVE, a fund where anyone can donate to a foster child's higher education. Most cannot afford to go.
"Eighty percent of them said yes, they'd like to. The reality is 1.8 percent actually get a degree," said Lockyer.
A 2003 University of Wisconsin study found about half of foster kids nationwide are unemployed or haven't finished high school by the time they're 20 years old. Forty percent are - or had been on - public assistance, or in jail. One-quarter received public assistance.
"We have an obligation to offer them a lot. At the top of the list must be the path towards higher education," said state Senator Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
While community college may be covered, Andrew is an aspiring judge and will need money through law school. His hopes all ride on CalSAVE being enacted.
"I'm just glad that people in this world give us this opportunity ... They see potential in us, like we see potential for ourselves," said Andrew.
No taxpayer money will be used for CalSAVE. The same staff that administers ScholarShare - where family members fund college for relatives - will handle the foster care college fund.
The proposal heads to the Senate floor this month.