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Cities Are a Hub of CSA Activity and Innovation

Cities have been a hub of Children’s Savings Account (CSA) innovation, starting with San Francisco’s launch of the first universal, municipal CSA program, Kindergarten to College, which inspired the creation of many other city and state level programs. City leaders are increasingly pushing for CSAs as a strategy to promote higher education and economic development within their communities. Existing CSA programs serve a total of less than half a million children nationwide, so engaging cities with large numbers of children is a promising way to ramp up the impact of CSAs. Recently, municipal leaders in three cities – Los Angeles, CA, Milwaukee, WI, and Richmond, VA – have been thinking through policy questions and program design details for their respective CSA programs.

Los Angeles is exploring creating a CSA program for the nation’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Last year, the Los Angeles City Council instructed the City Administrative Officer, with the assistance of the Chief Legislative Analyst and City Attorney to review the feasibility and economic impacts of establishing a CSA program for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) approximately 72,000 kindergartners. The city is in the process of determining a final cost estimate for the program, which would be the largest running municipal-level CSA program. Champions of the program are confident that it would help narrow gaps in college participation between children from higher and lower-income families and increase economic opportunity for all Angelenos.

City leaders in Milwaukee are developing a citywide CSA program to increase educational attainment among the city’s youth and ensure that Milwaukee has a skilled workforce prepared for 21st century jobs. The idea was first proposed in 2014 by Mayor Tom Barrett as part of his economic development strategy for the city, Growing Prosperity: An Action Agenda for Economic Development. The City of Milwaukee has made great efforts to include stakeholders from across the city in the CSA design working group, including financial service providers, community groups, philanthropic organizations and education leaders. The Milwaukee CSA program is expected to launch in the 2017-2018 school year, starting with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) kindergartners and eventually expanding to charter, private, choice, and home school students.

Most recently, municipal leadership in Richmond has also been exploring the concept of CSAs. Richmond’s new Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, Reggie Gordon, has been building partnerships with the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools and the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation to collaboratively think through what a CSA program would look like in Richmond. Discussions are at an early stage, but the joint interest demonstrates that the impact of CSAs cuts across a number of policy areas from K-12 and higher education to anti-poverty measures and workforce development.

The number of cities that are beginning to learn from one another and explore CSAs as a path to financial opportunity is heartening. Eventually, as more states begin to pursue statewide CSA programs, municipal leaders may need to think strategically with state policymakers about combining the programs or even rolling them into a national CSA program – but for now, we can celebrate the new initiatives underway.