By Patrick Donachie
More than 3,000 kindergartners in a school district containing much of northwestern Queens will have $100 allocated to them into scholarship accounts this fall to help them start saving for a college education.
The new program will be directed by the newly established nonprofit NYC Kids Rise and will be funded by a $10 million donation from the Gray Foundation.
School District 30, which contains Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst, will act as the site for a three-year pilot program, and officials said they hoped to scale the program citywide afterwards.
Julie Menin, the city’s Media and Entertainment Commissioner and chairwoman of the new nonprofit organization, joined Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Deputy Mayor of Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery, elected officials and others at a news conference at Public School 171 in Astoria to tout the new savings accounts.
“By investing in the future of our children, we will dramatically increase the chance that they will not only enroll in college but graduate,” she said. “Through this program, the students of District 30 will see first-hand the benefits of long term savings and, in turn, we hope to help families take control of their own financial futures.”
The new program will work in collaboration with New York’s 529 College Savings Program, which assists families in planning for future financial costs of college for students.
Menin said early focus groups indicated that while many parents wanted to save for children, they were unaware the 529 services were available.
The funds will be set aside in an omnibus account, with a sub-account for each incoming District 30 kindergarten student.
The accounts will be invested in the state’s 529 Direct Plan, which means families can benefit from accrued interest over time.
Each student will receive $100, with $200 in additional matching funds in the first three years. A total of about 10,000 children in total will participate throughout the pilot program.
Menin said studies indicated low- and moderate-income children with college savings even below $500 were three times as likely to attend college.
Menin said the program would be available to all students, regardless of income or immigration status.
Deborah Ellen Glickstein, the former executive director of the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment, was selected as executive director of the Kids Rise, and the Gray Foundation’s donation will also cover costs related to the nonprofit’s operation.
The funds would become available for students after high school graduation, and could be used for tuition or other ancillary costs to college, which Buery said made it complimentary to Gov. Cuomo’s recent announcement about free tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools for qualifying students.
Fariña said the program could help improve financial literacy for families.
“This will level the playing field, and there’ll be a big piece of parent education,” she said. “Some kids don’t see beyond middle school or high school. There’s no reason college shouldn’t be attainable.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona