University of Kansas professor Melinda Lewis is convinced savings accounts ought to be established at birth for every Kansas child.

She made her pitch to the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee, which is considering a bill that would create a child savings program to help put Kansas children on a path to enrollment in college.

Children’s savings accounts are tools designed to prompt early planning for college and raise educational expectations of students. Parents would opt into the program by checking a box on the child’s birth certificate application.

“Have seen with my own eyes in communities all around this country, how investing early in a child’s educational future can change their trajectories and can really transform what is possible for them,” said Lewis, associate professor of the University of Kansas’ School of Social Welfare.

She said a study of a comparable program in Oklahoma indicated infants randomly assigned a savings account had higher social and emotional skills by age four. This intervention can influence what parents see as possible for their children and what children expect of themselves as they try to bridge the gap for many between high school and college, she said.

There is “arguably no higher purpose” a state can commit itself to than welfare of children, Lewis said.

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, said accounts for children eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federally funded program, would receive initial seed money from TANF. Accounts for other children would receive seed money for savings accounts through private donations and contributions eligible for a tax credit, he said.

Highberger said House Bill 2096 would use $1 million a year in TANF dollars distributed to approximately 4,000 eligible children.

Money in the savings accounts would only be used for post-secondary education expenses of the original recipient, but if that person were do tragically die the savings could be transferred to another child in the same family.

“There is research showing that just a creation of an account like this can double a child’s chance of going to college,” Highberger said.

Annie McKay, president and chief executive director of Kansas Action for Children and proponent for the bill, said new savings accounts would help fill achievement gaps among K-12 school students.

“This bill can make great strides in addressing inequities and ensuring that today’s poor kids don’t become tomorrow’s poor adults,” she said.