Piloting CSAs in Colorado

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Under the leadership of Reggie Bicha, who has been championing asset-based approaches within the human services arena for a few years now, Colorado's Department of Human Services (CDHS) is partnering with the state's Department of Education (CDE) to pilot CSAs in Head Start programs located in six school districts across the state. CDHS and CDE leadership believe that targeting children and families in Head Start settings will maximize the program's ability to craft a college-bound culture, since all children in a given Head Start site would be connected to a savings account regardless of the funding source that pays for their early childhood education.

Colorado is still grappling with questions about the best delivery system for their CSA program, weighing the relative advantages and disadvantages of housing the accounts within the state's 529 plan, on the one hand, or a bank, on the other. As is the case in programs around the country, there are concerns about the challenges of enrolling undocumented families and providing truly automatic account opening in the 529 structure, versus the limited geographic reach of potential bank partners.

Colorado will provide a state-funded $50 seed deposit for every automatically-opened account, and is in the process of fundraising for matched monies, to provide a 1:1 match up to $100/year. They are also working to provide additional benchmark incentives, perhaps to be tied to non-saving evidence of parental engagement, like completion of financial literacy classes, regular school attendance, or other metrics.

Beginning with an eye to scaling, Colorado is considering how to be high-touch with relatively limited capacity (at this point, one full-time staff member is responsible for the program design, partnership development, and outreach), and determining the metrics by which success should be judged, on the path to broader implementation.

In many ways, Colorado begins considerably ahead of many states that have implemented Children's Savings Account programs--in asset limits, in its state standards for financial literacy within schools, and in its inclusive system of early childhood education, which can serve as a delivery arena. These advantages bode well for Colorado's successful implementation of a sustainable, effective CSA program. Still, they do not preclude some of the same struggles experienced by others, as well, including this overarching question of how to build a college-bound culture and surround children with the asset balances and facilitative institutions that, together, can catalyze equitable and improved educational outcomes.

We are eager to see what Colorado's efforts can add to this growing body of knowledge, and honored to get to think alongside them. If the CDHS team and others in Colorado have their way, within a few years, Colorado will have preschool classrooms full of college savers, experimentation with other asset approaches in child support and public welfare, and a financially-capable population on its way to disrupting cycles of poverty.

It's thrilling.

We're delighted to have them as neighbors!


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