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A big part of the problem with education funding as a political issue and public policy is that the payoff comes so long after the investment. The arc of a pre-schooler’s academic career most often is longer than the career of an individual politician, and individual politicians prefer to see quick, tangible results of public policy. And, of course, pre-schoolers don’t vote.
The new Keystone Scholars program, then, is a rare triumph of vision and patience. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the program into law this week after impassioned advocacy by state Treasurer Joe Torsella and broad bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Beginning Jan. 1, the treasury will deposit $100 into a tax-deferred “PA 529” college savings account for every child born or adopted in Pennsylvania. The money will not come from tax revenue, but from investment earnings of the PA Guaranteed Savings Program and private contributions. According to the state Department of Health’s Division of Health Informatics, 139,356 children were born in Pennsylvania in 2016.
Children may use the money that accumulates in the account for any type of post-high-school education until they are 29.
The program is a smart, low-cost way to help kids prepare for the future and to help Pennsylvania create a well-educated work force for the future. As Torsella noted in pressing the program through the Legislature, children with college saving accounts are four times more likely to graduate from high school than others, and three times more likely to actually pursue higher education.
A demonstration program already is underway in six counties, including Luzerne.
To find out how you can ensure the benefit for your child or grandchild, check out the program website, www.pa529.com/keystone.