How to access CalKIDS, a state-funded college savings account for low-income families


CalKIDS is a state program that funds up to $1,500 for eligible low-income public school students to save for college and career training — but only 8.3% of eligible students have accessed their accounts. Riverside County, however, is leading the way.

“We’re carrying the state average. The bulk of those who have claimed their CalKIDS accounts have come from our county,” said Catalina Cifuentes, executive director of the college and career readiness at the Riverside County Office of Education. “Instead of a deficit model, our county has taken more of an asset-building model. One of the pillars of financial literacy is college affordability, so we’ve done a lot of work around financial aid.”

Governor Newsom launched CalKIDS at the State Controller’s Office on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. | Office Of The California Governor

Also in this week’s education news roundup: John Glenn Middle School of International Studies in Indio was selected as a National Demonstration School by Advancement Via Individual Determination; students from CSUSB’s main and Palm Desert campuses return from a trip to Italy; Desert Sands Teachers Association recognizes its teachers of the year; and our weekly scholarship spotlight.

Riverside County Office of Education raises the bar with CalKIDS

The Riverside County Office of Education is helping families in the Inland Empire access financial support of up to $1,500 for college and other qualified training through CalKIDS, a state-funded program initiated in August 2022. The program has faced challenges in gaining momentum statewide.

“My county has submitted over 13% of the state’s CalKIDS claims,” said Catalina Cifuentes, executive director of the college and career readiness at RCOE. “Riverside County is the leader in the state right now.”

The California Kids Investment and Development Savings Program (CalKIDS) was launched in 2022 by the State of California with a clear mission: make it easier for more children to save for their future education. | CALKIDS

The California Kids Investment and Development Savings Program was created to help families kickstart their students’ college savings plans with an initial seed deposit — yet an announcement from CalKIDS in March revealed that only 8.3% of eligible students have accessed the state-funded accounts.

Low-income public school students are awarded $500 if they were in grades 1-12 during the 2021-22 school year, were enrolled in first grade during the 2022-23 school year or will be in first grade in subsequent school years. Students who have been identified as foster youth will receive an additional $500, as will students experiencing homelessness. California babies born after July 2023, regardless of family income, are granted $100. The funds are available until the beneficiary turns 26.

From embedding financial literacy lessons that align with the state’s Common Core standards at the elementary school level to setting up stations in the migrant fields to claim the CalKIDS accounts, Cifuentes says the outreach efforts must be culturally proficient and that it’s going to take community school districts to lead the way in opening up conversations with the most vulnerable populations. “If you send families an email that says, ‘You have $500,’ they’re like, ‘Yeah, right,'” she said. “When they see the principal of their child’s school promoting it, then they trust us.”

Cifuentes, who is also a commissioner for the California Student Aid Commission, believe that CalKIDS is the golden ticket in opening up conversations about saving for college, and being sensitive to what students and their families are dealing with. “We have to talk about affordability early,” she said. “For me, it was the first time I saw a hope to really do K-12 comprehensive college affordability planning by giving them something real and tangible they can do.”

The best part about this program, said Cifuentes, is that this money is not just for students planning to attend a four-year university. It can be used for community college, trade and technical schools, and any program that accepts federal financial aid. “The message is claiming the account and keeping your students’ options open,” she said. “It’s not up to us to decide for families, it’s about giving them options and opportunities.”

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