CollegeBound Saint Paul
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Saint Paul, MN

CollegeBound Saint Paul gives families a strong foundation to invest in their children’s education and establish lifelong financial wellbeing.

Kickstart to Career - Muskegon County
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Muskegon, MI

KickStart to Career invests in Muskegon County’s children by giving students an early boost towards a great career. 

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The Current State and Future Evolution of Information Management Systems for CSAs

As we note in Investing in Dreams, Prosperity Now’s comprehensive guide to designing Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs, having an effective information system is critical for managing a CSA program. Regardless of program design, each program must have a reliable and user-friendly system to track account activity, manage incentives and report account balances to participants.

While working with communities on their CSA programs, our Children’s Savings team is frequently asked: what kind of account management system should we have in place and what kind of management information system (MIS) options are available to CSA programs?

To learn more about the landscape of CSA information systems, Prosperity Now and San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) hosted the CSA Information Systems Summit in San Francisco in March 2018. At the summit, experienced practitioners engaged with representatives from financial institutions and financial technology firms that partner with (or were interested in supporting) CSA programs. The summit offered an opportunity to do the following:

  • Explore the primary information system needs of the CSA field and the CSA information systems that are currently available
  • Discuss how information systems integrate with account products and the extent to which systems and account providers are meeting (or could meet) the essential needs of CSA programs

After the summit, the Children’s Savings team continued the conversation with individual practitioners, current information system providers, and firms interested in this space. The resulting conversations about information management, as well as the CSA program survey showing how programs currently manage their data, led to Zen and the Art of Information Management: The Current State and Future Evolution of Information Management Systems for Children’s Savings Accounts.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the paper:

A Range of Management Information Systems Are Used Across the CSA Field

CSA practitioners use a variety of MIS to manage their CSA programs. These include everything from Excel spreadsheets, to software platforms that were designed generally for matched savings programs, to custom-built platforms designed by financial industry firms that serve their products. Four systems are outlined in the paper that offer unique features to their CSA program partners: Outcome Tracker (VistaShare), My529, InvestCloud and Citi Start Saving Platform.

Practitioners Are Looking for Additional Functionality in Their Systems

Based on an informal survey of summit participants that we conducted prior to the event, most respondents (72%) said that their current information system integrates well or moderately well with their current account program. However, respondents noted a range of functions that could enhance their MIS: 

  • Automated transfers of incentives upon completion of “milestones” by participants
  • Linking accounts from multiple financial institutions to one MIS platform
  • Increased ability to communicate with end-users, including mobile-friendly interfaces, push notifications or automated email messages
  • Online customer interface available in the multitude of languages their families speak
  • Dashboards for school administrators, financial institution partners and other users

Customization Across the CSA Field Benefits Participants, but a Lack of Standardization Makes Designing an Information System That Works for All Programs Challenging

One of the exciting trends in the CSA field is that the growing scale of CSAs—now more than 457,000 accounts across the U.S.—means that more communities are implementing CSAs at the municipal and state levels. Yet, as we learned at the summit, the lack of standardization across CSA programs presents a challenge for technology providers interested in designing appropriate products.

This paper is just one way that Prosperity Now is contributing to the growth of a more robust CSA marketplace, given that securing an appropriate, low-cost, user-friendly account platform continues to be one of the key barriers to starting a CSA program. Going forward, Prosperity Now plans to continue the conversation about information systems with practitioners and hopes to facilitate connections between potential partners in this space and CSA programs. 

To learn more about information systems and some exciting partnerships between programs and technology providers, please join us on June 4 for a webinar on this topic.

Keep up with the latest information on our work in Children’s Savings and the field at large by joining the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

Author
Erin Thiemann
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Why Adding "Claiming" Provisions to State CSA Legislation is a Bad Idea

In 2017, Nevada’s legislature passed a bill that requires the 200,000+ households in the Nevada College Kick Start (CKS) Program—one of three statewide, universal Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs that automatically enrolls participants—to take action to receive the benefits of participating in CKS. Although children were automatically enrolled in the program in kindergarten, each child’s family would now need to “claim” his or her CKS account before that child enters 5th grade to ultimately access its funds. This would require parents to sign onto a designated portal and input specific information (such as the student’s date of birth, zip code, and the email address of a parent or guardian) before they could access their account. Since then, Colorado, Illinois and Washington have introduced their own “claiming” provisions to proposed or final CSA legislation.

However, requiring families to claim CSA benefits is a bad idea that will undermine the purpose of CSAs. Before I explain why, let’s first examine why some states are adopting these provisions in the first place. Based on conversations with bill sponsors and advocates, there appear to be at least two reasons:

  • Cost savings. As behavioral economics (or pure common sense) teaches, any requirement for action by program participants creates barriers that ultimately reduce participation. From a budgetary perspective, this results in some proportion of accounts that go unclaimed, which in turn reduces the total cost of the CSA program. For state policymakers considering large-scale or universal CSA programs, including a claiming provision can reduce the amount of funds needed to sustain a program over the long run. 
  • “Skin in the game.” From a more theoretical perspective, some would argue that if parents or guardians do not take action to engage with their child’s CSA (which could include claiming an account), then the child would not likely know that the account exists. This argument builds on research that points to the power of CSAs in building postsecondary educational expectations or “college-bound identities” among children and youth. According to this line of thinking, if a child does not know that a CSA exists for them, then how can the account change expectations? 

But there are at least three problems with claiming provisions that will cause harm to families that should benefit from CSAs:

  • Claiming provisions violate one of the key principles of the CSA movement: universality.Starting with the SEED Policy Council—the initial policy brain trust that helped to establish many of the core principles of the CSA movement—and continuing with the “Ten Key Policy Design Elements” outlined by the Center for Social Development in 2018, universal eligibility (ideally paired with automatic enrollment) has been a key principle for ensuring that all children enjoy the benefits of CSAs. Claiming provisions in CSA legislation essentially transform universal CSA programs with automatic enrollment into opt-in programs, contravening the key goal of broad inclusion in CSAs.
  • Claiming provisions work against another key principle of CSAs: progressivity (the notion that more resources should be directed to children most in need). With claiming provisions, it’s almost inevitable that kids with the greatest need are also most likely to lose out and have college funds go unclaimed. For example, research by the Center for Social Development[1] found that parents with more resources were more likely to participate in an opt-in CSA program that offered a $500 initial deposit for all parents who opened a 529 account for a child born in Maine. Specifically, parents with more education, other investments and/or a financial advisor were more likely to enroll their children in the program than parents with fewer financial assets.
  • There is no consensus on how to define “claiming.” In Colorado, it means opening an account. In Nevada’s proposed regulations, it means signing up online. And in draft legislation in Illinois and Washington, it is not defined at all. CSA advocates should be worried that claiming provisions are, at best, vague and poorly defined, and at worst, a blunt instrument that is badly designed for its intended purpose. For example, if the goal of account claiming is to make sure that parents have skin in the game and are engaging their children in conversations about education beyond high school, what’s to say that parents who are unable to open an account (as in Colorado) aren’t having meaningful conversations with their children about college? As leading CSA programs across the country have demonstrated, there are better ways to promote parent and child engagement in CSA programs than simplistic claiming provisions.   

CSA advocates across the U.S. should be aware of the recent advent of claiming provisions in CSA legislation and should be prepared to act in two ways. First, CSA advocates should work hard to make sure that account claiming language is not included in or added to any CSA legislation or program.  Second, if claiming language is added to CSA legislation, regulations or program guidelines, despite strong efforts to oppose such language, advocates should act to make claiming periods as long as possible and the definition of claiming as broad as possible.       


[1] Margaret Clancy and Michael Sherraden, “Automatic Deposits for All at Birth:  Maine’s Harold Alfond College Challenge,” Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis, CSD Policy Repot 14-05, March 2014.

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1:1 Fund's Impact Report Shows Crowdfunding Model for CSAs is Stronger Than Ever

The 1:1 Fund was launched in 2012 with a purpose of  encouraging individual donors to match Children’s Savings Account (CSA) contributions made by young people. Now, the 1:1 Fund and its 17 partner organizations have passed the $2.5 million mark in fundraising--as highlighted in our recently released 2018 Impact Report.

The 1:1 Fund’s National Match Pool has given the overall fund the ability to match donations made to our 1:1 Fund partners during quarterly fundraising campaigns. The National Match Pool–funded primarily by large gifts from Prudential and the social savings app Kidfund—fulfills the vision of Prosperity Now founder Bob Friedman, who predicts that this match pool will affect multiple generations. Donors would provide matching dollars to leverage the savings of CSA participants, and the 1:1 Fund would provide matching dollars to leverage the generosity of those donors. It’s what the 1:1 Fund has done for the past six years.

Following a substantial matching success last year,  the 1:1 Fund grew its online fundraising total by 21% from 2017 and boosted its donor base by 11%. Explicit results of this success includes a fundraising total of over $285,000 by 1:1 Fund partners, and almost $257,000 in matching dollars.

Other highlights from the 1:1 Fund’s 2018 Impact Report:

  • Promise Indiana raised an astonishing $83,202 from more than 325 donors during the June Graduation campaign - the largest amount ever raised by a 1:1 Fund partner in a single, week-long campaign. In that same campaign, Inversant brought in a haul of more than $16,000 with an average donation of $352—the largest average donation size for a single campaign in 2018.
  • Thirteen partners participated in #GivingTuesday last year and raised more than $110,000.
  • Springboard to Opportunities held a 5K “Race for Our Community” in April with more than 200 Jackson, Mississippi-area residents, and raised more than $34,000 for initial deposits into CSAs.
  • Two new organizations in Missouri—SEED Success and KC Scholars—joined the 1:1 Fund in the fall of 2018.

Continued success by 1:1 Fund partners is based on positive relationships. St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones said, “The 1:1 Fund has been a wonderful partner for College Kids since shortly after I got started as St. Louis City Treasurer in 2013. With the 1:1 Fund’s help, more students have access to resources to achieve their dream of higher education.”

The success of the 1:1 Fund would not have been possible without the unyielding support of our individual donors and a multitude of partners, for which we are grateful. To learn more, view the Impact Report.

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A Flurry of Children's Savings Activity in State Legislatures

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a universal CSA bill in Colorado. 

As demonstrated in our annual report on the growth of the children’s savings field, more than 457,000 children have a Children’s Savings Account (CSA), up from 382,000 children last year. That momentum is also evident in state legislatures around the country. During the 2019 legislative session, CSA-related legislation has so far been introduced in 11 state legislatures—a much larger number than in past sessions. Highlights include:

  • Illinois – The Illinois House passed a bill on April 2 by a vote of 66-42 that would create an automatic, at-birth CSA program with a $50 initial deposit for all children born or adopted in Illinois. The bill is now being considered in the Senate. The legislation is championed by the Illinois Asset Building Group, a Prosperity Now Community Champion.
     
  • California – Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian introduced a bill to create a statewide CSA program serving the nearly 500,000 children born each year in California. The bill passed the Assembly’s Education Committee, and is now with the Appropriations Committee. In a separate development, Governor Gavin Newsom requested $50 million in his budget proposal to support CSA pilots and partnerships with local governments and philanthropic organizations.
     
  • Colorado – House Speaker K.C. Becker, Representative Leslie Herod and Senate Leader Stephen Fenberg co-sponsored a bill to create a statewide, universal CSA program. While children would be automatically signed up for the program at birth, parents would have to open a 529 account within five years to receive the $100 initial deposit—making it essentially an opt-in program. Automatic enrollment, which does not require any action by the parent or child to open or claim the account, is a best practice for CSA programs. The bill went up for vote in the House and was passed!
     
  • Oregon – The proposed bill would create the Oregon Bright Futures Plan Task Force—a nine-member task force chaired by the state treasurer—to design a statewide CSA program. The bill passed the House Education Committee, and is now with the Ways and Means committee for consideration. Neighborhood Partnerships, a Prosperity Now Community Champion, is leading advocacy efforts.
     
  • New Mexico – State Representative Andrés Romero introduced a bill that would create a CSA program with a $500 initial deposit for infants whose family income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. Although the House Education Committee recommended the bill move forward, it was not voted upon before the legislative session ended in March.
     
  • Washington – State Rep. Christine Kilduff introduced a bill that would create a CSA program with a $100 initial deposit for low-income kindergarten students in the state’s public schools. While the bill made it out of the House Committee on College & Workforce Development—and a companion bill made it out of the Senate Committee on Higher Education—it did not make it through the Appropriations Committee before the fiscal cutoff.

We will continue to monitor the progress of all pending CSA legislation. While we do not expect most of these bills to pass this session, they will serve as a foundation for future efforts in those states. The heightened interest state legislatures have taken in CSA policies this year bodes well for the future of the children’s savings movement.

To receive updates, research and resources on the children’s savings field, sign up for the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future!

Author
Shira Markoff
California-Based 1:1 Fund Partners Get Financial Boost

The California Student Aid Commission awarded several 1:1 Fund partners grants to strengthen their CSA programs as part of a one-time, $3 million state grant program to support local CSA programs. San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program received more than $926,000, El Monte Promise Foundation won nearly $450,000 and Oakland Promise’s Kindergarten to College program received more than $400,000.

The grant money is designed to help CSA programs award incentive funds to their children’s CSAs, conduct outreach about their programs and support an established evaluation that synthesizes trends in the children’s savings field and develops best practices. Congratulations to our partners for receiving this financial boost!

1:1 Fund Partners Raise Nearly $32,500 in Spring into Savings Campaign

The 1:1 Fund held its first fundraising campaign of the year, Spring into Savings, from March 11-15. Six partners participated and combined to raise $32,488 in the five-day campaign. Springboard to Opportunities, which led the pack with a haul of more than $12,000, leveraged the campaign to raise funds for its 5K Race for Our Community on March 30, 2019. Last year, Springboard also benefitted from the Spring into Savings campaign for its 5K race, which raised funds for initial deposits into CSAs.

Thanks to generous support from Prudential, the 1:1 Fund matched donations during the Spring into Savings campaign and will also match donations for the other three campaigns this year.

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Community-Owned Children's Savings Program Set to Launch in Saint Paul Next Year

At his State of the City address on March 14, Saint Paul (MN) Mayor Melvin Carter announced a universal, at-birth Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program set to launch next year—College Bound Saint Paul. This announcement marked a tangible step toward achieving Carter’s promise of creating CSAs for every Saint Paul child. And it came after months of work in an “inclusive, community-owned” program design process, according to CSA Program Manager Ikram Koliso.

Koliso, who worked as a policy associate in the mayor’s office before starting her current role, supported a 31-member task force charged with creating a recommendations report outlining an ideal design for the CSA program. Prosperity Now staff members served as advisers to the task force. Koliso said that the task force was designed to be as inclusive as possible.

“The first thing we did, before we even started thinking about putting together a task force, was convene different groups of stakeholders that have a potential touchpoint with the program,” she said. “For example, we convened hospitals and birth centers, but not just large birth centers. We included standalone birth centers and doulas. We talked to people who work with mothers who are incarcerated. We had a rich, diverse group within each group of stakeholders.”

Most members of the task force were women, people of color and/or Indigenous. When the mayor’s staff finalized the subcommittee structure, they kept that focus on inclusion. For example, the Funds and Fundraising subcommittee—which developed recommendations on the account platform and potential funding sources—included representatives from various backgrounds.

“The subcommittee working on the account product wasn’t just a bunch of bankers,” she said. “We had someone from one of our Indigenous community foundations [the Tiwahe Foundation], we had someone from the Saint Paul schools, we had someone from Junior Achievement. We brought in perspectives that the bankers alone wouldn’t have brought.”

“CLUES [Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio] provides a lot of services for our Latinx community,” Koliso added. “We wanted to have a couple people from CLUES, not just on the executive committee, but also on the different subcommittees.”

She emphasized that the task force’s efforts will help alleviate a roadblock for some children to access the CSA program. Although the program will automatically enroll many children who are born in Saint Paul, children who move to Saint Paul before turning six will need their parents or caregivers to sign up for the program. Various community-based organizations in Saint Paul will encourage families who fall into this category to sign up for the program.

“All of the organizations in the task force have a touchpoint with families and children,” Koliso said. “They helped us think creatively about how to reach out to those families who will have to opt in. The Community and Institutional Partnerships subcommittee explored how we can partner with existing organizations. The task force knows what the touchpoints are for kids and families. Without having them at the table, we wouldn’t have known that.”

The task force developed a landscape analysis of organizations and institutions that interact with parents and caregivers of young children. These organizations will act as ambassadors and champions of the program. Koliso advised city-level officials interested in setting up CSA programs to replicate Saint Paul’s efforts to bring many stakeholders together.

“That makes everything easier because we built in champions from the start,” she said. “We don’t have to build relationships when the program launches, because that’s already been done. We created a wide network of people who can lift up the program.”

College Bound Saint Paul will launch for all city newborns on January 1, 2020, with a $50 seed deposit for every child.

To receive ongoing information on the children’s savings field, sign up for the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future newsletter at savingsforkids.org.