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Senate Bill Would Encourage College Planning and Savings

To encourage more families, especially those who are low-income, to save and prepare for college, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., is proposing the American Dream Accounts Act of 2012. This legislation would authorize the U.S. Department of Education to give three-year competitive grants to local education agencies, charter schools, or organizations with experience in educational savings to test and refine the concept.

During visits to elementary schools across Delaware, Coons was struck by the energy and optimism of students about their future. But while kids start out with big dreams, he also realized too many do not make it to college because of lack of planning and money.

The initial proposal would cost $3 million, which Coons said would come from existing funds, although it would be up to the discretion of the department where to find the money. It would streamline current programs to better connect and work together, he said.

The bill calls for partnering groups to work with students to establish and administer the personal online accounts. Here, students would track their grades, courses, progress reports, attendance, and other information linked to college and career readiness. It would also include a college savings account, and grantees that provide students with seed money would rise to the top of the competition, according to the proposal.

Because the accounts would be Web-based, the information would move with the students—a plus for many low-income children who may frequently move or change schools and, therefore, get lost in the system.

"The problem is that we are not taking advantage of modern tools and resources to connect teachers, parents, students, and mentors across the very long journey from elementary school to finishing high school and going to a community college, a university or some higher skills training," said Coons in a press call this morning. "We don't connect across the silos."

While every state has a college savings plan, few middle- and lower-income families take advantage of them, said Coons. Teachers and counselors are challenged by kids moving into their schools without information about their background and aspirations. This concept would create a place for academic information beginning in 1st grade to follow students through high school and postsecondary education, he said.

Coons said he was inspired to propose the idea from his work with the I Have A Dream foundation. If students know they have financial support to go to college, they are more likely to go and do the work needed to be prepared, he said.

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., are co-sponsoring the bill. Coons is scheduled to speak about the bill on the floor this morning.

Update 3:55 p.m.:
Click here to see a video of Sen. Coon's remarks today.

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