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A ‘Yellow Springs Promise’ to help with costs of college

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At the meeting of the Yellow Springs Board of Education on Thursday, May 8, board members heard a draft proposal for a new program aimed at both promoting higher education for local young people and attracting new young families to Yellow Springs.

“We have a basic concept with lots of questions, and thought it is time to involve the broader community to play with the idea,” said Lori Kuhn of the Morgan Family Foundation.

The program, tentatively called the Yellow Springs Promise, is roughly modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, a program introduced in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Kalamazoo program, funded by anonymous donors, promises free tuition to a state college for all Kalamazoo high school graduates. It aims to attract new residents and improve the economy of that city, which lost jobs and population due to the declining automotive industry.

The Yellow Springs program is still very much in the conceptual stage, according to Kuhn and Bruce Bradtmiller of the Yellow Springs Foundation, who have been meeting to discuss the idea and sought the board’s approval in appointing a committee to explore it further. The board approved the committee, which will be chaired by board member Sean Creighton and will be composed of stakeholders in the community.

While Kuhn and Bradtmiller presented the concept, the foundations they represent have not committed to the Yellow Springs Promise at this point because the idea is still very much in the planning stages, Bradtmiller said in an interview last week.

The Yellow Springs Promise is a variation on the Kalamazoo program, similar to that created by the Alfond Foundation in Maine, according to Bradtmiller. Specifically, the Maine program provides a grant of money to all children born in the state at the time of their birth, in order that the fund would grow for 18 years and then contribute toward funding a college education. If family members set up a 529 college savings plan for the child at birth, the fund also provides a matching amount.

For instance, in the Maine program, children born in the state receive an amount that ranges from $500 to $1,500, depending on the initial 529 set up. An initial investment of $500 is estimated to grow to about $1,500 in 18 years, while an initial investment of $3,000 — $1,500 from the 529 and $1,500 from the matching grant — would grow to almost $9,000, according to documents handed out at the meeting.

“No one knows what tuition will be in 18 years, but $8,000 to $9,000 helps you meet it,” Bradtmiller said.

Yellow Springs is in a different situation than Kalamazoo, both regarding its current economic status and its resources, and the local program may aim for more modest goals, according to board member Richard Lapedes, who introduced the idea to Bradtmiller and Kuhn and has been meeting with them regarding it.

“We don’t have the wealth to do what they did in Kalamazoo, but the Maine approach shows there are surgical ways to do this,” Lapedes said in an interview this week. “Also, here in Yellow Springs we don’t want to be much bigger, but this may help to stabilize the family population in Yellow Springs and ultimately stimulate economic growth.”

A program similar to the Maine model would require $1.05 million to launch if it provides $500 to each child, and up to $3.15 million if the program committed to providing a $1,500 match to an initial 529 account of $1,500. The fund would be self-sustaining if fully capitalized at the outset, organizers said.

“In a community of this size, it’s a doable thing,” Bradtmiller said.

Board members reacted favorably to the proposal. The school system has struggled with the decline in the number of children in the village and “this is a way to attract more families with children,” according to board member Anne Erickson.

Lapedes, Creighton and Jane Scott of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation will attend an informational conference on the Kalamazoo Promise in June in Kalamazoo, according to Bradtmiller.


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