Every child deserves a chance to reach his or her highest potential. I believe we should invest in the next generation of Angelenos, because when they succeed, we all succeed.
When I was growing up -- I didn’t have much. I came to this country with my family at 6 years old and moved into a small apartment near Los Angeles Community College. My parents worked hard to build a better life for me and my siblings.
I wasn’t very different from the friends I grew up with. We were equally underserved - equally disadvantaged - equally poor. But I was lucky. What I did have were parents and a grandmother who made clear to me that college was a must. My parents sacrificed everything to come to the United States, and they made clear that it was my responsibility to do better and go further than they had. Whether it was around the dinner table or running the cash register at our toy store, we talked about college - and my future.
But I have other friends who weren’t as fortunate, many of whom didn’t have those dinner table conversations or about college or opportunities after high school. Many of my friends simply didn’t see higher education as an option. Too many children are told they aren’t good enough wealthy enough – or worthy enough - for a college education, while the importance of having a college degree only increases with each generation.
Today, over 80 percent of LAUSD students fall below the federal poverty line, and 17 percent of LAUSD students are homeless. Data shows that many of these students won’t go on to earn a college degree: in fact, children from high-income families are 8 times more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree than those from low-income families.
Data also shows that workers with a college degree earn 64 percent more than workers with a high school diploma. This is where we can make a difference. Studies also show that low-to-moderate income children who have dedicated college savings, even with a balance less than $500, are three times more likely to enroll in college, and four times more likely to graduate from college.
That’s why I’m championing a citywide Children’s Savings Account program:
What is a Children's Savings Account Program?
Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are long-term savings accounts that help children (ages 0-18) and their families build savings for expenses associated with higher education. Starting in the first grade, students of every background are automatically given a dedicated savings account in their name to be used solely for post-secondary education. Opening up CSAs for every first grader enrolled in LAUSD is our City’s commitment - and expectation - that every child should strive for higher education, no matter what you look like, where you live, or what your immigration status is.
I believe that every child should have the same opportunities to succeed, and that leveling the playing field has long range benefits for everyone. The Los Angeles Children’s Savings Account program is modeled after existing successful CSA programs in other cities, but this program will be the largest CSA program in the country.
Other cities like San Francisco, St. Louis, and Boston have launched their own Children's Savings Account programs, with incredible results. In San Francisco, students with these accounts are 24% more likely to see themselves going to college, and families are 32% more likely to be more informed about their financial aid options. Los Angeles' program will be the nation's largest.
What is Opportunity LA?
Opportunity LA is Los Angeles Children's Savings Account Program for every child enrolled in LAUSD. After more than three years of work between my office, the County and LAUSD, we are launching in the 2020-2021 school year with 10% of LAUSD first graders.
Every child enrolled in this program will receive an automatic $50 deposit from the city, which can only be used for expenses associated with higher education. These expenses can include tuition at 4-year universities, community colleges, technical and vocational schools, and associated school expenses. Students, their families, and philanthropic donors can also add their own private funds to the accounts at any point.
This program is critical when it comes to lessening the opportunity gap between low- and high- income families. To make sure that this program accomplishes its goals, we’ve ensured that it meets all of our criteria:
Universal - Students at all LAUSD schools and LAUSD-affiliated charters will be enrolled automatically, reducing any barriers to entry.
Inclusive - All LAUSD students will be included, regardless of school, zip code, housing status or immigration status.
Responsive - The incentive program will provide additional contributions to students and schools with the greatest need. Best practices and the unique needs of LAUSD will inform the design of a modular program that grows in tandem with students’ journey to college.
In order to ensure a smooth roll-out, we’re starting with 10% of all LAUSD students in the first year, 25% in the second year, 50% in the third year, 75% in the fourth year, and full participation by the fifth year.
Why Children's Savings Accounts?
Studies show that children begin to formulate ideas about their futures as early as elementary school. We need to make sure that those ideas include higher education, and that students see college as a viable opportunity. No child should receive the message that college isn’t for them. In this country, we tell children that the true measure of your success is a result of how hard you work - Opportunity LA makes that a reality for every young person in Los Angeles.