By Knute Buehler & Arnie Roblan
The legislature is back in session. Although we face many challenging tests – a looming budget deficit, rising health care costs, and a transportation infrastructure in desperate need of modernizing – we cannot fail to address Oregon’s broken education system. The latest statistics show Oregon with the nation’s third worst graduation rate. Even of those students who do graduate, many will not go on to higher education or other training, limiting their opportunities in an increasingly specialized economy.
We can and must do better. Our kids are the innovators, dreamers and leaders who will determine our state’s future. It is not enough to just talk about the problem. It is time to produce real results. It’s time we bet on the future: our kids.
One proven way we can do this is through a statewide Child Savings Account (CSA) program. Every child born in Oregon would receive an account in their name and an initial deposit. Ideally, the account would include a mix of personal savings, public funding and donations from private partners. The account and the initial deposit would send a message to every child that we, both the state and community, believe in them and their future. The account can be coupled with financial education and a mentor. As a young teenager, they can begin to envision and plan for continuing education after high school.
Funds deposited in CSAs can only be spent on expenses related to post-high school education and would incentivize saving for college or technical training with matching deposits. Some funds could be used as incentives for accomplishments like perfect attendance, academic achievement or attaining goals.
Studies have shown that CSAs can have a profound impact on a child’s chances of success. Children with at least $500 saved for college are four times more likely to graduate from college. Young people aged 12 to 18 with a savings account for college had higher math scores and were twice as likely to go to college than their counterparts without a college savings account. It is not just the financial assistance that matters, it is the expectation they are to graduate and seek post-high school training. For every child there is a path to strive, thrive and achieve.
While CSAs are a new concept for Oregon, other states and cities have established similar programs. Maine and Vermont have started CSA type programs. San Francisco has grown its Kindergarten to College program and continues to produce exciting results and enthusiasm with local families.
Providing opportunity, setting expectations and making goals are key to the success of CSAs. When kids see that someone believes in them and their future, they are more likely to believe in themselves. How we spend our time and invest our money shows our priorities as a state. It is not enough to simply talk about our underperforming schools, the shortage of highly skilled workers and all the students who never made it to graduation day. It is time to start solving the problems and show that in Oregon we confidently bet on our kids to make a better future.
Sen. Arnie Roblan is a Democrat who represents Senate District 5 in Coos Bay.