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Child Development Accounts / 529 College Savings Plans: Linda English

October 8, 2015

Linda English, Nevada Deputy State Treasurer for College Savings / Nevada College Kick Start Program

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Below is a full transcript of this video presentation. It has not been edited or reviewed for accuracy or readability.

Linda English: Thank you, Clint. I don’t know why I always end up speaking right after Clint. And he’s so engaging. And Gloria as well. But, you know what? It—I’ve been working in Nevada for three years now on Kick Start for two, coming onto three. And every time I come to a meeting like this I do them in awe. And I feel like a newbie. And while I’ll say that our program next week will include nearly 99,000 kids across Nevada, I look at the programs and the outreach and the high touch models that folks have talked about today. And I’m very jealous. I have four staff members. I have 250 elementary schools in Clark County alone. I have a lot of ground to cover. But I, I love the ground up approach. And I always leave these thinking I’ve really got to get my community better involved so that I can have the same success for our program. But, anyway, again, Linda English with the State Treasurer’s Office of Nevada. I’m going to talk real high level about our Nevada College Kick Start program. And then I’m always happy to answer detailed questions later. I see a lot of folks in the room that I’ve talked to over the last year or so. I’m always available. I learn more, sometimes, I think, than folks who call me. So, I’m really thrilled to be here and to be able to share the nuts and bolts of our Nevada Kick Start program. So, the three things I’ll be talking about is an overview; some of our community and school outreach, and then our potential changes that are going to come in FY17.

So, the Nevada College Kick Start program, as Margaret said, is a 50 dollar college savings plan account for every Kindergartener attending public school in the state of Nevada. We implemented the program in the fall of 2013 with 14 of our rural counties. So, we had about 3500 accounts to start with. Quickly thereafter we went statewide. In February of 2014 adding another 30,000 students. Again, today it’s 75, another cohort, the next cohort which will be uploaded on Monday brings us to just shy of 99,000. The important thing we, Justin talked about, our funding comes from fee revenue off of the 529 plans that are sponsored by the state of Nevada. We’re lucky to have four fantastic plans, great partners. And the few revenue that the state brings in is earmarked in our statute to either pay for administrative costs of the programs or to assist residents of Nevada attend and obtain a higher education. That’s where, that’s the little piece that we stole and said, yep, we’re going to do Kick Start. So, Kick Start started under my previous Treasurer, Kate Marshall. And she launched this program in the last year for tenure. She was term limited. Could not run again. So, in January of ’15 we have a new Treasurer. And I’ll talk a little bit about that later.

But, so the program is a universal program meaning all public school children receive these accounts. It’s an opt-out model. So, parents don’t have to do anything. There’s no paperwork for them to fill out. They can opt-out of they want but participation is automatic. We, of course, use our state’s 529 plan as our investment vehicle and all of the accounts and assets are in the age based portfolio that most closely matches the age of the beneficiary.

So, we gather our data like San Francisco does, from our school districts. And it includes student ID, child’s name, date of birth, address information, and primary parent information. We do not require or receive SSN on any of our Kickstart participants. SSN is not needed for the account to be created.

The way we structure the program is we have our three cohorts. We have three main master accounts, if you will, that each have roughly 1.8 million dollars in them, which is the 50 dollar seed. And then we have, what we call a roster or a side accounting of the beneficiaries for those three main accounts. So, we’re able to set up the accounts this way without SSN because 529 specifically allows government entities and other organizations to open accounts and not name a specific beneficiary. So, this provision in 529 was really meant for organizations to be able to use 529 plans to administer scholarship programs. So, we take advantage of that.

So, again, we have three main accounts with the money in it and a side roster that tracks our students. Today every student when they are uploaded for the first time they get a welcome letter. They get a newsletter. And then thereafter they get quarterly summaries that show what the account activity is, the market. And the there’s information down there on, again, opening up your own account, you know, encouraging them to save. And we also enter them into a little giveaway too. But, so, yeah.

We have a two account structure. We have the Kick Start account which is controlled by the state and held until the child needs the money for school. And then we encourage the families to open up their own account if they want to contribute more. So, the two account structure, again, allows the state to control the money that was seeded. And it also allows the family in their personal account to benefit from the benefits that we’ve built into our 529 plan if they qualify such as matching grant components. And also allows them to take advantage of the flexibility of 529. So, in your own personal account if you need to change the beneficiary you can. If you want to change the investment option you can. If you wanted to take a refund you can as well. So, having the two account structure allows that, those benefits for both parties.

Going onto outreach. So, outreach is obviously extremely important because we do want our families to contribute and set up their own account. So, my four people are crazy busy running all over the state going to every event that we can possibly find and including working with our schools. Making sure that we’re in the classroom. We have developed an in-class exercise we call our Piggy Bank Campaign. And when a teacher requests it every child in the classroom gets a piggy bank. They get a little by little storybook which talks about how saving a little bit over time can really add up. They get a pencil. And then they also get, my favorite thing on the planet, which is the College Kick Start t-Shirt. So, says, big arrow. Is going to college. And then has the Kick Start logo on the back. You want to talk about goosebumps, you wait until you go to an assembly and 60 or 70 Kindergarteners walk in with their little shirts on. And the parents’ jaws drop. I mean, it’s very powerful. So, I brought a few of these and I put them out on the table. Hopefully you guys grabbed them. I don’t want to take them back with me. And if anybody wants more, let me know. I’m happy to send you some. But this fall we have already sent out over 10,000 Piggy Bank kits to classrooms across the state. So, that’s one of the ways that we really try to get out there. We also found a lot of success with—I’m going to ignore your wrap up. I won’t take long, I promise.

But one of the things that, you know, talking about trying to reach families that may not have access to technology. One of the things that we’ve done is gone and partnered with schools. Opened up their computer labs and said, we’re going to have a representative here all afternoon. If you don’t have technology at home and you’d like to come in and open up an account or you have questions, we’ll have staff available. Those type of events when we’re able to, you know, find the staff to do them are very impactful.

And as I said, we have a new Treasurer. And with a new Treasurer you have new ideas, new energy, new focus. One of the things that he and his chief of staff decided was instead of marketing our program separately we were going to have an umbrella brand. So, we have just, in the end of august we launched, Sage, The College Savings Desert Tortoise. He’s our new mascot. And he’s very cute. If you want to see that the ad is really cute too. We have a guy from Pixar animation who did an animated and live together. So, if you go you can see these ads. They’re really cute. And we’re launching a six week bus tour. We have a big raft RV. We’re going all over the state starting next week. But really, trying to position the office as a resource for how does a family pay for college? So in this umbrella campaign we’re really highlighting four things. The prepaid tuition plan that we’ve run, our SSgA Upromise 529 Plan, College Kickstart. And then we have a millennium, a Governor Guinn Millennium Scholarship Program which is the state’s merit based scholarship for the state. So, those four programs together we’re bundling and saying, you know, this is how we can help Nevadan’s, you know, pay for a college education. So, results to be seen. Put part of Sage’s thing is he say, “Hehe”. So, we go into schools this week and all the kids are like, “Oh, Sage. Hehe.” So, I think it’s working. But, yeah. It’s super cute. And somebody at lunch today on a national level Shara said she has Sage’s picture in her office. So, I was, I was thrilled.

So, briefly just talking about upcoming changes. So, when we launched the program in ’13 the Board said, in three years we want to take a look at it. We want to see what kind of success you’ve received or you’ve achieved. And see about changes. And of course the new Treasurer, he has some ideas and wants to put his stamp on the program as well. So, the first thing is we, a census is our program manager. And we’ve been working on a platform that they generously built for us. But we’re excited through a census to also partner with VistaShare coming up and hoping that the partnership there will allow us to take the program even further. And more specifically, what we’d like is an online access. Easy online access for our families to view their College Kick Start account. Once you view your College Kick Start account we want to be able to jump off of that page to the general account opening process so that people can open up their own accounts very easily. And then we have them tied together. Because if you can imagine, if I don’t have social security number in Kick Start and they go and they open up an account of their own and they have the social security need over there, I have manual process trying to link them together. With the opportunity as it’s been presented with VistaShare is that this can all happen seamlessly if I can get the families to log in and look at their Kick Start account. They can go off and immediately create their own account. Then they’re linked. Then they see them online together. And they also see them together on a joint quarterly statement which will be a huge benefit and win. So, we are working through a census on that and hopefully we will go live with that in the fall of ’16.

See if I forgot anything. I don’t think so. So, again, we have to go in front of our Board in Spring, probably, our February meeting. We’re go—oh, I know what I was going to talk about. So, what the Treasurer wants to do is, he doesn’t think fifty dollars is enough. And, who does? So, his idea is to add another hundred dollars if a students’ family opens up their own account before that student ends the sixth grade. So, we’ll be going to the Board with these types of modifications to the plan. Hopefully we get the green light and again implement in the fall of ’16. So, thanks.