I just read an article in The Economist that describes a great idea. Instead of spending all its funds on the bureaucracy of education, the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to enroll every first-grader in a free college-savings-account program. What a great idea. Invest in the future in a very practical way.

     The program is called “Opportunity LA” and will deposit $50 for each of its 44,000 first-graders in a savings account for college. It is the biggest college-savings scheme for children in the United States. Again, what a great idea…..and so simple. As an educator, I have seen so many good ideas launched, only to gradually atrophy under creeping bureaucracy and political meddling, but we have to keep trying. Our children deserve it and our country needs it.

     One of the great aspects of Opportunity LA is that it’s automatic. It doesn’t require any input from the families, and it can be used for any two-year or four-year program at an accredited institution. If families choose to add funds to their child’s account, the District will match that contribution up to $25 per year. There is a caveat in that, if the child leaves the district the funds are forfeit, but any family contribution will be returned. That’s probably fiscally sensible from the District’s point of view.

     I repeat, what a great idea. College fees are totally out of control in the United States. I remember paying $33,000 a year for my son….and that was over twenty years ago. Today, the costs are even more outrageous and, although there’s a lot of talk about forgiving the crippling loans college students incur, little seems to done about it: It’s a great political campaign promise but that’s about it. The idea of starting an automatic investment at first-grade is a great idea. Let’s hope the politicians and other vested interests don’t divert, derail or just plain screw-up the idea too much.

     I should add that there is hope for such a great idea. Oklahoma instituted SEED OK fifteen years ago and it’s still running successfully. The scheme randomly selects newborns and gives them $1,000 towards their college-saving plan. Families who received the money have experienced long-term benefits. They are more likely to have opened an additional college-savings account for their children and, much more importantly, they have greater expectations for their child to complete graduate school.

     I would like to add an additional caveat to those expectations: the children themselves grew up expecting and wanting to go to college and obtain the skills for their futures.

     Invest in the future of your children, and the country, in a very practical, and very effective way. At the risk of sounding like a broken record…what a great idea.

     Other areas of the U.S. have begun similar programs many of which are being successful. Programs have begun in San Francisco and Maine. New York City is planning to start a similar program this Spring and California’s governor announced he will start one soon. The seeds of a great idea are being sown across the country. However, in reading about some of them, they don’t seem to have the simplicity and comprehensiveness of Opportunity LA. Invest in every child automatically almost seems too simple an idea. We do love to complicate things and sometimes it is better to leave “simple” alone. If I return to my cynical self for a moment, I have to wonder how Opportunity LA managed to keep the lawyers out of it. The program is so straight-forward and simple, it doesn’t need lawyers to adjudicate, interpret, or generally mess with it. Congratulations LA.

     Hurrah for simplicity.

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