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It'll be easier for Washington foster kids to get a driver's license

A bill signed by Governor Jay Inslee will reimburse caregivers or foster children for the costs associated with getting a driver's license.

It’s expensive to become a licensed driver in Washington state. There are permitting fees, driver's education classes, testing and insurance costs.

Dawn Rains, chief policy and strategy officer at Treehouse, a nonprofit that works with foster children, said it’s often a significant hurdle for foster children or their caregivers.

“Not having transportation is a key barrier in getting to school, getting to work, to social activities — all the things that young adults need to do in their lives,” Rains said.

She said only 3 percent of foster kids get their driver's license by age 18, compared to 54 percent of their peers. Foster kids are also disproportionately kids of color.

Rains said this situation is especially problematic since it’s often necessary for foster kids to become more independent much earlier in life.

“If your only option is to drive without a license to get to where you need to go, often times that leads to legal trouble that then can snowball and really prevent youth from moving forward with their lives,” Rains said.

The bill that Inslee signed Friday will have the most impact where public transportation is more scarce, like the outskirts of King County.