Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), creator of GEAR UP, the nation's largest and most successful college readiness and access program, is joining Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) to sponsor "The American Dream Accounts Act of 2012."
The legislation introduced by Fattah today and by Coons last week employs the power of the internet to create "Dream accounts" that allow low-income young people to reach for and succeed in higher education. The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).
Fattah, a leader for college access and affordability for under-served students, is also the prime sponsor of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a $2,500 tax credit for tuition and other expenses for college students and their families. In 2011, more than 9.4 million families received AOTC tax credits valued at $18.2 billion.
Fattah's signature achievement is GEAR UP -- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs -- which has helped prepare up to 12 million low-income students from sixth to 12th grade for the rigors of higher education.
"The American Dream Accounts Act of 2012" fits the pattern for Fattah who has, throughout his career, advanced the cause of low income and under-represented students at every level from early childhood to post-graduate education.
"These on-line accounts will both nurture the dream and support the reality of college aspirations for young people who may not have realized that higher education is within reach," Fattah said. "College education and graduation is the ticket to success in our economy. Every young American who punches this ticket is helping our nation win the future while they're helping themselves.
"Our young people deserve to be provided with the tools they need to succeed and to reach their dreams," Fattah said. "These Dream Accounts also provide a building block for broad-based reform in line with President Obama's goal of post-secondary education for every American."
Senator Coons said he was drawing on his own experience with the "I Have a Dream Foundation" in developing the legislation, which he introduced in the Senate March 15.
"One of the lessons we've learned from the recent recession is that unemployment has remained very low among those with a college degree," Coons said. "Now more than ever, amid intensifying global competition and rapidly changing technology, it's critical that young people not only finish high school, but pursue some kind of education after high school. American Dream Accounts are a way to strengthen the ability of teachers, parents, mentors, and students to work together to make sure that young people, throughout their entire education experience, prepare for, save for, train for, and then fulfill a vision for their own future -- a dream for their life after high school.
"Simply put, it connects existing silos of information about how students can save for college, how students are doing in school, career awareness programs, and post-high school education and training support programs," Coons said. "Using the strength of modern social media tools and the power of compound interest, it helps get parents, teachers, and students aware of and planning for, and saving for college at a very early age."
Under Dream Accounts, low income students would establish secure Web-based accounts that track their college readiness, contain information about academic preparedness, financial literacy and high-impact mentoring and would be tied to a college savings account. Instead of approaching these threads independently, this bill connects students, parents and teachers across silos, and takes a small but significant step toward helping more under-served students of all income levels access, afford and complete a college education.
The Dream Accounts Act authorizes the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants to encourage innovative and comprehensive partnerships supporting low-income students in preparation for a college education. The legislation, designed as an incubator for future expansion, authorizes the Department to fund the effort with $3 million redirected from other education programs.