The Plain Dealer
By: Karen Farkas
April 4, 2013
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Cuyahoga County is poised to open a $100 college-savings account this fall for every new kindergarten student who lives in the county.
The College Savings Account Program, announced in November by County Executive Ed FitzGerald, is expected to be approved by County Council this month after a council committee spent several months reviewing and revising the proposed legislation.
Council members added several provisions to allow more leeway in how students can use the money and how council will monitor the county's multi-million dollar investment in the program.
"I think there has been a lot of work done through the committee and I think we have a good piece of legislation," said Julian Rogers, chairman of the council's education, environment and sustainability committee.
The county charter mandates that the County Council establish a post-secondary scholarship program. But FitzGerald said that rather than provide a scholarship fund, he wanted to create an incentive for children to attend college.
According to information from FitzGerald, 13 percent of county residents have not completed high school and 30 percent have a high school degree but no college,.
The county will place about $1.5 million a year in a master account at one or more financial institutions in the area. That account will also contain money that is expected to be donated by foundations or other groups.
A sub-account, showing a $100 credit, will be established for each of the 15,000 children entering kindergarten at public, private and parochial schools. Families can opt out of the program if they choose.
As the student progresses through school, family members and others can contribute to his account, which will likely accrue minor interest. The money is to be untouched until the student is ready to prepare for post-secondary education. Then the county will place the money in the student's sub-account.
But if an emergency arises, a family can petition the county for the funds it contributed, said Ken Surratt, who is overseeing the program as a special assistant to FitzGerald.
The money should be used for post-secondary education, which would include vocational training. But council members amended the legislation to allow students to use the money to pay for college-entrance tests, college applications and Advanced Placement exams. The funds also could be used for college books, supplies and transportation costs.
The program will also teach families about the importance of saving, Surratt said.
If a student does not use the $100 by age 25, the money will revert back to the county and any other money deposited for the student will be returned. The age limit can be extended a year for each year a student serves in a national service program, such as the military or Peace Corps.
Council also added a provision calling for council members to evaluate the program within five years. Based on that evaluation, they could modify, expand or terminate the program.
Council members also helped create a 12-member committee -- including educators, bankers, civic leaders and parents -- to oversee the program and provide fundraising support.
Councilman Jack Schron, who had sought more specific language on the program and asked for assurances that students could use the money for any post-secondary training, said the legislation that will come to Council now covers most of his concerns.
"I think the question still comes down if this is the best way to spend the money," he said. "We will put it in place and review it."