Invest in ME Kindergarten Expands Outreach and Adds New Schools

Published September 26, 2019

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The Alfond Scholarship Foundation (ASF) and the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) announced today at Sabattus Primary School in Androscoggin County and at Fort Fairfield Elementary School in Aroostook County, the continuation of its joint Invest in ME Kindergarten program. 

The program rolled out last year as the first-in-the-state education initiative specifically designed to inspire Maine families with children entering kindergarten to start preparing for future higher education. As the program enters its second year, a total of thirty schools are participating as Program Champions, with twelve schools designated as County Champions, and four Continuing Champions are expanding on initiatives from last year. 

“We are pleased to continue our outreach to kindergarten students and their families about planning, preparing and affording education after high school. It truly isn’t too early to start planting the seed to build aspirations” said Martha Johnston, Director of Education for FAME. 

Helping families build bright futures – that’s the mission behind the Invest in ME Kindergarten program,” said Colleen Quint, President and CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation. “Last year’s kindergarteners represented the first big wave of Maine babies who were born in 2013 and automatically awarded the $500 Alfond Grant¹, and the same holds true for those children starting kindergarten this year. We hope Maine families and Maine educators think of kindergarten as the first step to higher education.”

How the Invest in ME Kindergarten Program Works

Each spring, Maine’s elementary schools are invited to apply to participate in the Invest in ME Kindergarten program. This year thirty schools applied and sixteen were chosen as County Champions. All thirty of the schools will receive information from Invest in ME Kindergarten over the course of the school year. 

During the year, each elementary school in the Invest in ME Kindergarten program receives tools and resources to help families and children aspire to and prepare for higher education. The County Champion Schools receive additional incentives to help engage families, including a Bright Future Fun Pack filled with materials for each kindergarten student; an Invest in ME Kindergarten banner for their school to hang; and a $500 grant to support Invest in ME Kindergarten initiatives or events hosted by the school. A complete list of this year’s Invest in ME schools can be found at BrightFutureForME.com. 

The sixteen Invest in ME Kindergarten County Champion Schools for the 2019-2020 school year are listed below. Four schools (denoted by the *) are returning for a second year:

  • Sabattus Primary School – Androscoggin County
  • Fort Fairfield Elementary School – Aroostook County
  • Mill Pond School – Aroostook County*
  • Blue Point Primary School – Cumberland County
  • Riverton Elementary School – Cumberland County*
  • Strong Elementary – Franklin County
  • Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School – Hancock County*
  • Ellsworth Elementary School – Hancock County
  • Libby Tozier School – Kennebec County
  • Nobleboro Central School – Lincoln County
  • Crescent Park School – Oxford County
  • Ridge View Community School – Penobscot County
  • Edmunds Consolidated School – Waldo County
  • Lubec Elementary School – Washington County
  • Dayton Consolidated School – York County
  • Governor John Fairfield School – York County*

About 529 College Savings Plans Network and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood 

Maine has joined a twenty-seven-state movement to take on the student debt problem in a national campaign. The aim of the campaign, led by the 529 College Savings Plans Network, is to limit college debt for new generations by helping families plan ahead for higher education costs. The movement’s 529 message will be amplified throughout 2019 and into 2020 under an agreement with Fred Rogers Productions, the company founded by the late Mister Rogers, the beloved advocate of children’s education. The campaign’s spots will air before and after episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The series is one of the highest co-viewed children’s shows between parents and young children and is based on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

NextGen 529- Maine’s 529 Plan: Building for a Bright Future 

According to industry data, less than one-third of U.S. parents are even aware that college 529 plans exist and less than 18 percent of children nationwide are enrolled in a 529 plan. 

“In Maine those numbers are higher, but we still have a lot of work to do to help families afford higher education,” said Bruce Wagner, CEO of FAME. “We’ve learned that children with college savings are three-times more likely to go to college and four- times more likely to graduate, even when they only have a few hundred dollars saved in the account. Invest in ME Kindergarten is just another way we are actively reaching Maine families to help them afford higher education.” 

According to FAME Director of Education Martha Johnston, “There are many steps that Maine families can take to encourage their children to aspire to higher education. One is to open their own college savings accounts. Here in Maine we have Maine’s Section 529 Plan, known as NextGen 529TM .”  

“Families with a child awarded the $500 Alfond Grant can use it to open a NextGen 529 account for the child, with no initial contribution. We are working hard to educate parents that there is a difference between the grant and the account,” noted Johnston. “Once they have a NextGen 529 account, parents, grandparents and friends can make regular contributions to the account and help create a bright future for their child. They may even be able to take advantage of NextGen 529 matching grants  for Maine residents²,” she continued.

Johnston further added: “Kindergarten is a good time for families to think about saving for higher education because some may have space in their budget because of reduced child care expenses as their kindergartener enters school.”

“Ultimately, building college aspirations, increasing completion of postsecondary education, and making it possible for more children to go to college or trade school by increasing college savings and alleviating student debt can play a significant role in boosting Maine’s overall economy,” concluded Wagner.  

About NextGen 529

To learn more about NextGen 529, visit www.nextgenforme.com

NextGen 529 is a Section 529 plan administered by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME).  Before you invest in NextGen 529, request a NextGen 529 Program Description from your Merrill Financial Advisor or Maine Distribution Agent or call Merrill Edge at 1-877-463-9843 and read it carefully.  The Program Description contains more complete information, including investment objectives, charges, expenses and risks of investing in NextGen 529, which you should carefully consider before investing.  You also should consider whether you or your designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in such state’s 529 plan. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, a registered broker-dealer, member SIPC, is the program manager and underwriter.

About the Finance Authority of Maine

FAME is a quasi-independent state agency that expands business and educational opportunities to help Maine people and businesses succeed. To learn more about FAME, please visit FAMEmaine.com.

About the Alfond Scholarship Foundation & The Alfond Grant

Harold Alfond was a Maine businessman and philanthropist who wanted every Maine baby to have the opportunity that higher education brings. The Alfond Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is a non-profit organization he created to invest the $500 Alfond Grant at birth for every Maine resident baby for their future higher education. The Alfond Grant is the grant awarded to all babies born Maine residents on or after January 1, 2013. For Maine children born 2008-2012 the grant was available on a more limited basis. To learn more about the grant, visit MAG.

 

¹ Children born as Maine residents since January 1, 2013 are eligible for the Alfond Grant. The Alfond Grant is also available under limited other circumstances. See Guidelines at nextgenforme.com/alfondguidelines.

² Grants are linked to eligible Maine accounts. Upon withdrawal, grants are paid only to institutions of higher education. See Terms & Conditions of Maine Grant Programs for other conditions and restrictions that apply at NextGenforME.com.