AP: Lawmakers eye college savings plan for poor

3/9/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — A program that helps some poor Kansans save for college could be eliminated under a bill currently being considered by a House committee.

TOPEKA (AP) — A program that helps some poor Kansans save for college could be eliminated under a bill currently being considered by a House committee.

The program allows up to 1,200 state residents each year to receive up to a $600 yearly state match for contributions to the Kansas' 529 college savings plan. The program is open only to households at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level, or with incomes roughly below $47,100 a year for a family of four, The Kansas City Star reported.

The state is spending about $500,000 on matches for 998 households this year. Overall, the program has cost the state $2.1 million since 2007, according to the state treasurer's office, which runs the program.

"The real question is: Is it a core function of government?" asked Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican and chairman of the House General Government Budget Committee.

But one opponent said it's wrong to try and reduce state spending by targeting a program aimed at helping poorer families afford higher education.

"I just think it's quite unfortunate there are some that believe that stealing people's dreams is the way to get to (a balanced budget)," said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.

Several social service groups, including the United Way of Greater Kansas City and United Community Services of Johnson County, argued at a hearing Thursday in support of the program.

Some lawmakers suggested families might be enrolling in college then quickly dropping out to collect a refund that would include the state's match. The general counsel for the state treasurer said that does not appear to be a common situation.

"The goal of the program is, obviously, to encourage saving. That is a good goal," said Rep. Craig McPherson, an Overland Park Republican on the budget committee. "Whether or not the program is effectively accomplishing that goal, or if it's the proper role of government, is still something I'm considering."

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