By: Solana Rice
July 23, 2014
Like LeBron James, I, too, am heading back to my hometown of Cleveland - granted without a $22 million-a-year contract and for just a brief visit.
In his recent Sports Illustrated letter, James expresses the hope that kids will realize that Northeast Ohio is a great place to live and that "maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business."
I wish the same, but first they have to go to college. According to the Ohio Department of Education, fewer than 60 percent of students in the Cleveland public school district graduate high school in four years.
In Cuyahoga County, 30 percent of residents don't have a college degree. That means limited employment opportunities and diminished ability to build wealth and disrupt the generational cycle of poverty.
My hope is that James and other Clevelanders understand his power to transform children's economic futures - off the court. He could start by putting his weight behind another important development for our community that isn't trending on Twitter: All 10,500 Cuyahoga County kindergarteners beginning public school later this summer will receive a savings account in his or her name to save for college.
Each account will be seeded with $100, thanks to the Cuyahoga County College Savings Account Program enacted by County Executive Ed FitzGerald. With plans to expand to kindergarteners in private and parochial schools, the program uses taxpayer dollars to create the largest universal program of its kind in the nation.
Families will receive a welcome packet, deposit slips, and an account number from Key Bank, the fiscal administrator, as well as access to online financial literacy classes. The return on this investment is likely to be tremendous. Research shows that children from low-income families with as little as $500, or less, in a savings account are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate. This tells us that even an account with a small sum is enough to motivate kids and send the message that people believe in them.
I applaud FitzGerald for being a true leader and I'll applaud LeBron James if he makes good on his promise of being the best role model he can be on and off the court by investing in the financial security of children. Let's rally together so children have more than low-paying service jobs to look forward to as a result of his dynasty. I recommend that the LeBron James Family Foundation grant $1 million each year to match the contributions of low-income families into their new college savings accounts. James wouldn't be the first professional athlete to invest in efforts that help build financial security for children.
All-Pro NFL Defensive End Justin Tuck of the Oakland Raiders and his wife, Lauran, committed more than $150,000 and many hours to a children's savings account pilot program launched last year in New York City. But a commitment from James in a city like Cleveland could have an even larger impact - and one that could be replicated by other athletes across the country.
As wonderful as it would be if the Cavaliers won a title, the effect will be short-lived if we don't also look for ways to enhance the long-term economic health of Cleveland and its residents. I want James to be the first NBA player who has fundamentally improved the opportunities for young people to live and thrive over a lifetime. His return demonstrates for younger people that you can make it big, live in and love Northeast Ohio.
I'm one of the kids who left Cleveland for college and did not return. But my sincere hope is that Clevelanders find a way to build a place where all of our children's dreams are possible. It won't make the national news, or trend on Twitter, but it will make Cleveland a winner in the long run.