KU students support college-savings plan

House bill provides incentive for investing

Kristine Midyett, a single mother putting herself through college, knows how hard it is to save.

She set up a savings account for her 7-year-old son’s college education. It has a few thousand dollars in it, but it’s hard to keep from raiding the account when other priorities call.

“I’ve put in money and lots of times I’ve taken it back out,” she said.

Midyett and a team of Kansas University social welfare students are pressing for passage of House Bill 2722, a proposal that would launch a pilot incentive program for low-income families to save for college.

Qualified families would receive a government match for college savings of $100 to a maximum of $600. The program would run from 2007-09, with a maximum of 400 new participants per year. The program would cost up to $340,000 in its first year.

Families must have a household income of no more than 200 percent the federal poverty level. Under 2006 poverty level guidelines, a four-person family could not have a household income above $40,000.

“This is not just about handing out money,” Midyett said. “It’s a long-term return. It is a way for families to be able to build up some savings.”

Midyett, Christina Raab, Shanna Meyer and Sheena Jacobi were looking for a piece of legislation to support for a class they are taking. All work with adolescents in various organizations across the region, so when they discovered the bill, they knew it was where they wanted to put their energy.

They’ve sent emails and made phone calls to legislators. They’ve visited Topeka and met with lobbyists.

“It’s a way for families to break the cycle of poverty,” Midyett said of the proposed program.

Jacobi, who works with at-risk adolescents at The Shelter Inc. in Lawrence, said such a program could empower the children and families she works with.

“One of the greatest struggles that they face is a lack of hope in their ability to change their future,” she said. “I really can’t see any arguments against (the program). That’s the bottom line. It will benefit the community as a whole.”

The measure is in a House-Senate conference committee, attached to other higher education legislation.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who is on that committee, said the college savings proposal has a good chance of becoming law this year.

Rep. Ed O’Malley, R-Roeland Park, was the primary sponsor of the legislation.

“This is all part of a movement toward asset building,” O’Malley said.

He said while traditional social service programs deal with immediate needs such as clothing, food and health care, asset building is focused more on long-term assistance to try to raise low-income families into the middle class.

“We want them to build assets. That is truly the ticket to the middle class,” he said.

“Maybe it’s the Catholic in me, trying to give people a hand up, not a hand out,” he said.

O’Malley said it makes sense for the state to provide matching funds for the low-income program because middle- and upper-income families receive a tax benefit through the state’s Learning Quest education savings account program that most low-income families don’t participate in.

O’Malley said the proposed legislation has gathered support from a wide-range on the political spectrum.

And, he said, the efforts of the KU students was important.

“Anytime a group from outside the Legislature champions a cause, it helps the legislative process,” he said. “We are further along because of the KU students.”