CATHEDRAL CITY – One year ago, the City Council began to study a kindergarten-to-college plan in which kindergartners here could open savings accounts that would serve as a pathway to securing college funding.

José Cisneros, who is credited with launching in 2011 San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College Program, met with the Cathedral City Council. It was the first universal, public Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program in the country.

Since then, other cities such as St. Louis, Mo., and Oakland, Calif., have used lessons from San Francisco to help inform the design and development of their municipal CSA programs.

Talks stalled in the aftermath of former Mayor Gregory S. Pettis’ death and while a full City Council was being constituted. Pettis embraced the idea of the program. He valued education and wished it for all children in Cathedral City. Pettis earned a bachelor’s degree from Azusa Pacific University in religion with an emphasis in biblical literature; master’s from University of Phoenix; and attended a senior executive program in local and state government at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University.

With a full City Council now seated and three new members elected since September 2018 – Raymond Gregory, Ernesto Gutierrez, and Rita Lamb – the issue is again on the Study Session Agenda.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the City Council will study a Kindergarten-to-College Savings Program, which is currently being done in the city and county of San Francisco. It is a college savings program set up in partnership with the local school districts and the participating city/county/state. A Kindergarten-to-College plan is established automatically for each district student entering kindergarten, or a participating program year. Typically, the city starts each account with $50, and offers additional incentives to families. Studies have shown that students with college savings accounts in their own name are more likely to attend college and four times more likely to finish.

The Palm Springs Unified School District averages around 520 incoming kindergarteners per year, which at $50 per account would be $26,000. Additional incentives as outlined below and made available would be lower in the earlier years but could grow to well exceed $500,000+ per year.

In September 2018, then-candidate Ernesto Gutierrez Ernesto M. Gutierrez, spoke in opposition to the savings account idea.

Kindergarten-to-College Studied in Cathedral City

Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez

“Our city has not fiscally recovered from the 2008 recession. We have residents being assessed a special tax to maintain our parks,” Gutierrez told Uken Report. “City employees are currently negotiating and facing benefit costs. We have not yet filled lost employee positions since 2008. City employees are working four-day-a-week schedules in order to save money, which is not business-friendly. We can barely meet city’s employees’ retirement obligations. Local high school graduates can attend our local community college for free. We have all these financial issues and we are looking to possibly spend more money. This sounds like a great idea, but it is wishful thinking. (It’s) just an extra expense for our city. Sorry, I don’t think this is the best thing for our city and our residents.”

Whether he still feels the same way, now that he is on the City Council, remains to be seen.

In San Francisco, when a student starts kindergarten, the city, county, or state sets up an account with a $50 starting incentive from the program. The Kindergarten-to-College account is issued an identification card and tracks the contributions and incentives for each student. The funds belong to the student in all circumstances.

A Kindergarten-to-College account is opened for each eligible student when starting kindergarten, containing an initial incentive of $50 from the City and County of San Francisco. Any month a child saves at least $10, he or she will be rewarded with an immediate $10 bonus.

The Kindergarten-to-College account is a deposit-only savings account that is a restricted account intended for post-secondary educational use.

San Francisco has called its Kindergarten-to-College program as a major success. Approximately 17.5% of students/families have made at least one deposit. Students and families have saved almost $3 million, not including any money from the city.

Image Sources

  • Ernesto Gutierrez: City of Cathedral City
  • Kindergarten ABCs: Image by Mahesh Patel from Pixabay