Millions of kids in California can now claim at least $50 to put toward post-high school education, thanks to a new state program that launched earlier this month.
The so-called CalKIDS program’s launch comes amid rising concern about college costs in California. It’s the result of a policy effort led by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D–North Hollywood), who has been working on related legislation since 2014, and invests seed funding into a college savings plan for newborns and eligible public school students.
He compares CalKIDS to Social Security.
“We've put into place the safety net when you're aging, but we haven't really necessarily made the appropriate investments for the youth who are just now starting in life,” he said.
The program officially got approved in 2019, when Assembly Bill 15 passed, but was expanded last year via Assembly Bill 132. AB15 established the universal college savings plan for newborns, while AB132 allotted additional one-time and ongoing funding to provide more for low-income public school students, foster youth and homeless children.
Max Vargas, the vice president of economic justice at the Latino Community Foundation, says the program is a great example of policy driven by equity: It has both a universal approach, and a targeted one.
Latinos are the majority racial group in the California population, and they are also the group that reports the most financial need at state public universities, according to a 2021 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Vargas said he hopes the state continues to think about how to reach communities with the highest need for the program.
“Where the need is highest, that often, sometimes, is where the trust might be lowest,” he said. “One number that jumps to mind for me is that 43% of Latino households are unbanked or underbanked — that’s not just because they didn’t hear about a bank, it’s also because they didn’t trust in some of those programs.”
He said to build that trust, the state needs to reach out to partners on the ground who are able to connect with communities in both linguistically and culturally relevant ways.
Julio Martinez is the executive director of the ScholarShare board, which manages the CalKIDS program. He said some of the state’s current partners are the California’s Department of Education and organizations that work with parents of newborns, like United Ways of California and First 5 California.
CalKIDS has a sign-up form for interested partners on its website open to public agencies and community-based organizations.
“Just like with newborns, every single [eligible] public school student and their families will get a letter in the mail as well to notify them of this program,” he said.
Here are answers to how you can access the money, eligibility requirements and more.
Who is eligible for the program?
All kids born in California from July 1, 2022 onwards and low-income public school students in grades 1 through 12.
You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible, which Nazarian said has always been his intention for the program.
“It does not matter who you are, what your family standing is — if you were born in California, or if at some point you're a student in California who moved in by the time you're in first grade, you will be able to take advantage of this program,” he said. “The goal is to tell everyone, every California resident, you have an opportunity to be invested in.”
There is an eligibility tool public school students and guardians can use to figure out if they have a CalKIDS account. The CalKIDS website translates into 16 different languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Tagalog, Farsi, Vietnamese and simplified Chinese.
You’ll need your Statewide Student Identifier, which you can see on your report cards or get via asking your school or school district directly.
How much money is available through the program?
Kids born on or after July 1, 2022 have a baseline deposit of $25 into their CalKIDS account, upped automatically to $50 once parents create an account online.
The state has 90 days to receive birth data and create an account, so there may be a lag before a newborn’s account is created.
If parents or guardians link a new or existing ScholarShare 529 account to their newborn’s CalKIDS account, they get an additional $50 deposit.
Eligible low-income public school students in grades 1 through 12 have a baseline deposit of $500 into their CalKIDS account. An additional $500 is deposited into the account for foster youth and homeless students.
What do I need to claim my CalKIDS account?
To claim the account, you’ll need to register online. There are three pieces of information the system asks for; no social security or taxpayer identification number is needed to access the money.
For an account linked to a newborn, you’ll need:
- The name of the county where the child’s birth was registered
- The child’s date of birth
- Registration code, which can be either the local registration number located on the birth certificate or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families
For an account linked to an eligible 1st through 12th grade student, you’ll need:
- The name of the county where the student was enrolled in public school as of Oct. 6, 2021 (the Fall Academic Census Day 2021)
- The student’s date of birth
- Registration code, which can be either the Statewide Student Identifier (SSID, check student report cards or contact the school or school district to get this information) or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families
What else do I need to know about the money?
The money from the account can’t be retrieved and used until a student turns at least 17 and is ready to enroll at an institution of higher education, Martinez said. For parents or guardians to directly contribute to a college savings account, they’ll have to open a separate ScholarShare 529 plan.
A ScholarShare 529 plan offers parents 17 different investment options, with the most common one being an “age-based portfolio.”
That age-based mode of investing is what happens to the money allotted through the CalKIDS program.
The money isn’t taxed as long as it’s used for tuition, room and board, books, supplies or computer equipment at a qualified higher education institution, which can include community college, trade school or a four-year university.
Where should I go if I still have questions about the CalKIDS program?
You can call (888) 445-2377 any time between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or email [email protected].
You can also sign up for an informational webinar about the program and ScholarShare 529 plans that will be held Aug. 25 via Zoom. Right now, the webinar is only offered in English.
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