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Cleveland set to OK college savings plan

– A proposal to start off every kindergartner in Cleveland and its closest suburbs with a $100 college savings account is expected to be approved by county leaders.

The idea was floated in November by Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat who has indicated he will run for governor.

The Plain Dealer reported that the plan is expected to be approved by the county council this month after a committee spent several months reviewing and revising it.

The effort – which would kick off this fall with about 15,000 children – would fulfill the county charter’s mandate that county leaders establish a postsecondary scholarship program.

“The county wishes to promote a culture of academic achievement and college success within Cuyahoga County,” the county charter says. The county executive and council replaced a three-commissioner county government amid a lengthy corruption investigation.

FitzGerald said he wanted to create an incentive program for all county children instead of a traditional scholarship.

FitzGerald says 13 percent of county residents have not completed high school and 30 percent have a high school diploma but no college degree.

The county will set aside about $1.5 million a year. Separate accounts with a $100 credit will be established for each of the 15,000 children entering kindergarten at any school in the county.

If an emergency arises, a family can petition the county for the funds it contributed, said Ken Surratt, who is overseeing the program as a special assistant to FitzGerald.

The money is intended for post-secondary education, including vocational training. Council members agreed to allow students to use the money to pay for college-entrance tests, college applications and Advanced Placement exams.

If a student does not use the $100 by age 25, the money will revert back to the county and any other money deposited for the student will be returned.

The age limit can be extended a year for each year served in a national service program, such as the military or Peace Corps.

A 12-member committee including educators, bankers, civic leaders and parents will oversee the program.