Vt. school district explores taxpayer-funded college accounts for kindergartners

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 6:13 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont school district is planning for higher education. The board is proposing setting aside taxpayer dollars for each student to use for continuing education after graduation. But there are doubts about the value and legality of the idea.

“If you put a light at the end of a tunnel, a kid is going to go through the tunnel,” said David Schoales, the chair of the Windham Southeast School District School Board.

Schoales read about New York City creating 529 savings accounts for all of their public school kindergartners.

With about 180 students in each grade, Schoales proposed the school budget of $55 million incorporate $100 for each kindergarten student toward their own 529 plan.

“The whole purpose of that $55 million is to invest in kids’ futures. What better investment than learning after high school? Going on after high school. And especially if it sends kids to college who would not have otherwise gone,” Schoales said.

“In theory it sounds great,” said Mark Speno, the interim superintendent of the Windham Southeast School District.

Speno has some questions regarding the logistics.

“One-hundred dollars starting at kindergarten-- what that looks like in your senior year, I would have questions about,” he said.

Schoales says the accounts would be created by the district but managed by the family whose name is on it, so families can invest more money over time.

Frank Rucker, the business administrator for the district, questions whether this is equitable.

“One-hundred dollars at 3%-- that’s a very safe low-risk kind of investment. That’s three dollars a year. So 10 years, that’s $30,” Rucker said.

If the account is not touched by anyone else, they would get about $140.

Rucker says he has been talking to VSAC about this program. They have told him it does not exist in New England, in part, because of legality questions.

“The board would want to explore this idea of a publicly taxed resource going to private citizens. That is not something that is typical with school budgeting,” Rucker said.

The school board does not currently have a timeline, but decisions will need to be made by January so it is ready for the school budget vote in March.

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