BRATTLEBORO — A new proposal would give kindergarteners in the Windham Southeast School District savings plans to put toward education after high school.
Discussions are still in the early stages. The topic came up at the Nov. 9 School Board meeting, where several board members wanted to ensure the college money could be used for trade schools or other alternatives.
“I think it’s great,” board member Tim Maciel said, adding that higher education has many benefits outside the obvious ones.
A New York Times article shared by Board Chairperson David Schoales details how New York City is giving all public school kindergartners $100 in a college savings account.
“Researchers have suggested that even small sums in a dedicated college account can significantly increase a child’s likelihood of pursuing higher education,” states an excerpt Schoales read from at the meeting. “The money is generally invested in state-run 529 college savings plans, where earnings grow tax-free over time. Withdrawals are free of income and capital gains taxes as long as the money is used for eligible expenses associated with higher education or career training.”
The article says that state and local governments, as well as school districts and nonprofits, set up the programs “intending for them to become not only part of the classroom conversation but also part of the community fabric. With the account infrastructure in place, it becomes easier for local groups, corporations and others to direct money to local students, experts said, particularly those with fewer resources.”
Schoales suggested administrators look into creating a program and potentially fit it into next fiscal year’s budget. Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Business Administrator Frank Rucker, who has been in touch with Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, said savings plans would increase access to higher education and awareness but there can be “significant challenges” if a school district administers the funds rather than other entities.
“The value to kids to realize that they have some options in their future is too big to not make those things work,” Schoales said.
Board member Shaun Murphy said he worries the program would require “a lot of administrative work for 14 years and then for a very small return at the end.” The New York City kindergartners from the article are anticipated to have accounts holding about $3,000 by the time they graduate.
The district also “has an unbelievable amount of scholarship availability for college-bound students,” Murphy said.
Interim Superintendent Mark Speno raised the potential for the district to provide a gift to students upon completing graduation rather than running a fund needing to be tracked over the years. The lesson of watching the account get bigger over time would then be lost, Schoales said.
Schools in the district span Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney.