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In Richardson ISD, Kindergartners And First-Graders Get Dollars For College

Courtesy of Richardson Independent School District
Richardson Independent School District Superintendent Jeannie Stone talks about the Dollars for College initiative.

Some students in the Richardson Independent School District are getting a head start on paying for college. The district has announced a college savings plan in three of its schools with large numbers of students who are economically disadvantaged.

The Dollars for College program creates a scholarship account for kindergarten and first grade students at three Richardson ISD elementary schools: Forest Lane Academy, RISD Academy and Audelia Creek Elementary.

Communities Foundation of Texas and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas partnered with the district in this initiative, which starts each student with $50 in their account.

“We know students who grow up with even a small college savings account are three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate, and so this opportunity to see them with a savings account, but even more so with a hope for a brighter future, is just critically important,” said Jeannie Stone, Richardson ISD superintendent.

Credit Richardson ISD
Students at three elementary schools in Richardson ISD are getting money deposited into their own college savings accounts.

Parents are required to open what’s called a 529 savings account for their child through the district’s website. That will be linked to the student’s scholarship account.

For the next two years, the district will offer incentives for students to earn additional deposits and matching funds into their accounts. Incentives could include good attendance, completing reading assignments and parents participating in school events.

The goal is for students to have $500 in their accounts by the end of the two-year period. After that, those funds will be transferred to students’ 529 accounts and parents can continue making deposits.

“We know that $500 is not a lot of money, but $500 is a semester at community college — $500 is books and fees to help someone offset the cost of tuition,” said Wende Burton, senior director of community philanthropy at Communities Foundations. “Five hundred dollars is enough to put money toward a certificate program or vocational license.”

Greg Mangum, vice president for economic mobility at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, said it’s important to help parents plan.

“In Texas, only 5% of K-12 students have a dedicated college fund, such as a 529 plan, and that’s because many families just don’t have access to an affordable longterm savings platform to save for their children’s future college education,” he said.

Lancaster ISD is also participating in the College for Dollars program. More than 430 college savings accounts have been opened there.

Communities Foundation of Texas helps fund KERA's One Crisis Away project.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.