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By Carl Rist, Director of Children’s Savings and Senior Advisor, Asset Building, CFED

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in the launch of Durham Kids Save, an innovative new children’s savings initiative whose purpose is to build the higher education aspirations for a new generation of young students in Durham and to help those students and their families begin to prepare financially for post-secondary educational success.  Here are four things to know about Durham Kids Save:

1)     Durham Kids Save is about planting the seed of post-secondary educational successes in vulnerable children NOW.  Currently, less than 10% of low-income kids in the U.S. complete higher education by their mid-20s. A big reason for this worrying statistic is the rising cost of college attendance. Durham Kids Save is designed specifically to build college aspirations and to prepare kids from an early age for the financial challenges of post-secondary education.  Research indicates that low- and moderate-income children with college savings of just $500 or less are 3 times more likely to enroll in college and 4 times more likely to graduate.

In the first year of Durham Kids Save, all 75 entering kindergarten students at Y.E. Smith Elementary School in Durham will receive a $100 deposit in his or her children’s savings account (CSA). Subsequently, through grade 5, the savings in this account will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100 per year. The money in the CSA will be available to the student upon high school graduation for the purposes of higher education. A student whose parent(s) deposit the maximum $100 per year would leave fifth grade with a college savings account of $1100 and an incentive to graduate and to continue saving for post-secondary education.

2)     Durham Kids Save grows out of a broader effort to fight poverty in Durham.  Durham Kids Save grew out of a larger effort in Durham to address poverty and a growing gap between rich and poor. In 2014, Durham Mayor William V. “Bill” Bell launched a Poverty Reduction Initiative, a city-wide effort to reduce poverty neighborhood-by-neighborhood. To initiate this effort, the Mayor and city leaders chose Census Tract 10.01, a distressed Census tract in northeast central Durham. One of the several recommendations for building household financial security that was developed and approved by the initiative’s Finance Committee was a proposal to create CSAs for all students at Y.E. Smith Elementary, the main primary school serving Census tract 10.01.

3)     Durham Kids Save is part of a growing national movement to help all kids save and build assets for the future.  While Durham Kids Save may sound like an out-of-the-box idea for a municipality, its actually another in a growing list of efforts at the city and state level to open matched college savings accounts for large numbers of kids, including vulnerable kids.  The most well-known city program is Kindergarten to College (K2C) in San Francisco, which has already opened more than 20,000 college savings accounts for young kids entering public kindergarten in SF.  Meanwhile, St. Louis followed suit late last year, opening CSAs for all 3,500 kindergartners in St. Louis Public Schools, and Oakland just announced plans to do the same.  At the state level, Maine, Nevada and Rhode Island all open a 529 college savings account almost automatically for all newborns with an initial deposit of anywhere from $50 (Nevada) to $500 (Maine).

4)     The entire community has embraced Durham Kids Save.  With its initial concept coming from the Mayor’s Poverty Reduction Initiative, Durham Kids Save has evolved into a unique partnership among public, private and nonprofit entities at the local level. This partnership includes the City of Durham and Durham Public Schools.  It also includes the Self-Help Credit Union as the financial institution partner, East Durham Children’s Initiative as the local sponsor organization, and BB&T as the initial funder.  In addition, private citizens from Durham have contributed all of the money for a pool of dollars to fund the initial deposits and savings matches for the first two years of Durham Kids Save. That was made possible via a fundraising campaign using the 1:1 Fund (www.1to1fund.org) that raised $20,000 from local donors and generated a $40,000 match from national donors.

I’m excited to see what kind of impact Durham Kids Save has in our community. If it works well, and we think it will, I hope cities and towns across North Carolina, and even the state itself, will consider providing young children with education savings accounts. A higher education is a key component of economic opportunity and programs like Durham Kids Save can make that a reality for kids in our state

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