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San Francisco Program Encourages Parents to Add to College Accounts

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San Francisco officials are encouraging more parents to add their own funds to college-savings accounts that the city opens for free automatically with $50 deposits for each kindergartner.

The city's Kindergarten to College program started in 2011 as the first of its kind in the country in which the city gives $50 to each enrolled kindergartner in San Francisco Unified School District. Read more about the launch of Kindergarten to College.

Run out of the Treasurer's Office of Financial Empowerment, the program began with 25 percent of kindergartners the first year, but has now grown to all incoming kindergartners. Low-income families can get an additional $50, and incentives are offered for families that contribute their own money to the accounts mostly from private funds.

One way that the city and district are trying to get more parents to participate is through its first SFUSD Family Welcome Day, which is set for Sunday, June 5 at Golden Gate Park. The city Treasurer's Office and district officials are co-sponsoring the event to get parents involved in a variety of ways, including the San Francisco Federal Credit Union giving information about home-loan programs.

"While there are many structured cross-school gatherings such as an annual school site council summits, enrollment fairs, etc., this day will provide an opportunity for families from all schools to get together and enjoy spending time together with their children," said Gentle Blythe, a district spokeswoman, in an email statement.

The goal of the program is to create a "college-going culture" and increase the "financial literacy" of parents about the costs of college, said Carol Lei, program manager Kindergarten to College.

About 18 percent of parents have made some contributions to their children's accounts, Lei said. That compares to about 3 percent nationally of families who have 529 accounts, plans operated by states or schools with tax advantages or incentives for saving for college.

About half of those San Francisco families who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, Lei said.

"We know this is working at some level. Even those who are considered low income can do something," Lei said.

The accounts have about $3.6 million total. Of that, about $1.8 million was contributed by families.

Lei said her office workers are trying to get the word out by going to school events and holding adult field trips to banks, including for immigrant and Spanish-speaking parents. Some parents often think it's a scam because it's free money.

Other communities have since started similar programs for children's savings accounts. The Campaign for Every Kids Future has a searchable map of states with programs.

See a flier from San Francisco Unified about the family event. 

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

Follow @ParentAndPublic for the latest news on schools and parental involvement.

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