CATHEDRAL CITY – Kindergartners in Cathedral City could in the not-too-distant future open savings accounts that would serve as a pathway to securing college funding.

Savings Accounts for Kindergartners Studied

José Cisneros

During a 45-minute study session on Tuesday, the City Council soaked up information from José Cisneros who is credited with launching in 2011 San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College Program. 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.

The program, which is underwritten by the city of San Francisco for $750,000 to $800,000 annually, helps secure college funding for thousands of children from low-income families.

City Supervisor, Malia Cohen, has described Kindergarten to College as a, “perfect example of public dollars manifesting and doing good.”

Each fall, as 4,500 new kindergartners begin school in San Francisco, they are issued custodial bank accounts in the amount of $50. In the years between kindergarten and college, the student’s family can add savings to the account and receive bonuses and matching funds in the process. Families can withdraw from the tax-free account only to pay for tuition and book for the child’s post-secondary education.

The goals of the program, according to Cisneros, are to:

  • Create a college-going culture: Children with even less than $500 are three times are more likely to go to college than those without savings.
  • Reduce financial exclusion: Universal access to college savings accounts for children as they enter kindergarten in public schools.
  • Increase financial capability: Incorporate financial education into the school classrooms, and link education to action.
  • Leverage private investment for good: Kindergarten to College leverages private funds for savings incentives to help families earn money for college.

Ellen Goodman, executive director of The Foundation for Palm Springs Unified School District, said the topic is a “very sensitive subject.” She said the numbers of kindergartners in Cathedral City would “dwarf” in comparison to the numbers in San Francisco.

The latest information Uken Report received is that there are on average 700 kindergartners entering the public school system in Cathedral City annually, which would cost $35,000 per year. There has been some talk about using cannabis proceeds.

Goodman was one three people who spoke during public comments.

Ernesto M. Gutierrez, a candidate seeking a City Council seat in District 4, spoke in opposition to the savings account idea.

“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 after making his comments. “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.”

An enthusiastic Alan Carvalho, a member of the Public Arts Commission, said, “What genius thought of this idea? It’s a no-brainer. You’re giving them hope. I think it’s incredible.”

Mayor Stan Henry said savings accounts for kindergartner is an issue that will require a great deal of discussion, including opportunity for partnership so the financial burden doesn’t fall all on the city.

The City Council took no action as it was designed as a study session.