Adams plants financial literacy seeds for public school students

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Mayor Eric Adams at Baychester Academy announcing the expansion of NYC Kids Rise program. Friday, May 13, 2022.
Screenshot by Ethan Stark-Miller

Mayor Eric Adams this week has been on a mission to help kids across the city learn to read and save for their futures.

Following his announcement Thursday that all city public school students will now be screened for dyslexia, Adams gathered with parents and lawmakers at Baychester Academy in the Bronx Friday to promote the citywide expansion of the NYC Kids RISE Save for College program, which will give most of the city’s Kindergarten students access to a college savings account. 

The event celebrated Baychester Academy parents opening their children’s savings accounts. It was attended by Deputy Mayor for Strategic Initiatives Sheena Wright, NYC Kids RISE Executive Director Debra-Ellen Glickstein, Council Member Julie Menin (D – Manhattan) and several others.

First announced last week, the city will invest $6.5 million in 65,300 scholarship accounts for public school, and some charter school, students participating in the program – that’s $100 in each student’s account. But the city’s financial commitment to the program doesn’t stop at this year, Adams said they will add $100 to participating student’s accounts for each year going forward. These are NY 529 Direct Plan investment accounts.

According to Adams, research shows that children with college savings accounts are three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate. And, Adams said, it’s not just parents and the city who can add money to their children’s accounts but also other relatives, family friends and anyone who wants to donate.

“We’re going to make this first seed investment, then we’re going to water it every birthday,” Adams said. “We’re going to water it every time a child gets a new tooth. We’re going to water it every time a child gets a good grade in school or try hard. We’re going to bring our churches together and say that, ‘listen, this month, we’re going to pick each child and we’re going to donate into their savings account.’ And then you just keep adding, adding, adding and it’s unbelievable what the dollar amount is.”

Growing up, Adams said, the idea of a college savings account and even the overall concept of going to college wasn’t on his or his mother’s radar. But this program will help the next generation, which is expected to go to college in order to enter the workforce, make a dent in affording the hefty tuition bills and come with an associates or bachelors degree.

“I knew nothing about a college savings account as a child,” Adams said. “And no one helped mommy in saying, ‘you know we can save for college.’ And to be honest with you, we never even thought about college. College was so far off our radar. But now we are telling these young scholars that you are expected to go to college or a trade school or vocational school, going into a place that you will continue to expand your learning.”

Adams said this program will help bridge the city’s wealth gap that was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time teaching kids financial literacy from an early age.

“The pandemic showed us how large the wealth gap is, and how equity needs to be front and center, something that these electors say over and over again,” Adams said. “This college saving program is a practical way to improve and narrow the gap in wealth. And at the same time, we’re helping children understand the power of investing, the power of saving.”

Save for College is a public-private partnership that’s also been supported by an over $17 million investment from the Gray Foundation, which is operated by Jon and Mindy Gray. Jon Gray said he was originally inspired to invest in the program when meeting with Menin in 2014, where she pitched the idea of children’s savings accounts as a public-private partnership.

“I really latched on to this idea of children’s savings accounts,” Gray said. “I love the thought of financial literacy that came with it. The savings component. The 529 piece, as an investor, thinking about families investing in the market to getting the benefit of compounding was very compelling. But the most compelling factor is the one the mayor pointed to, which was this idea that kids who had savings accounts were three times more likely to go to college [and] four times more likely to graduate.”

Gray is also CEO of the investment firm Blackstone.

The program first launched in 2017 in School District 30, which includes the Queens neighborhoods of Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. Glickstein, the program’s executive director, said Save for College was about providing a tool that allows communities to invest in each others’ childrens’ educations.

“Underlying this work has been this question, ‘what would it look like if we each took responsibility for all of our children?’” Glickstein said. “So, to answer that question, this platform was designed as a tool, a tool that schools can use and integrate as a core component of their day-to-day operations and customize to meet the needs and desires of their school communities in preparing their students for higher education. A tool that parents and guardians can use to save in the ways that make sense for them and their financial circumstances, starting with these building blocks, and or to support other families and students in their community or across the city.”