Canada Learning Bond helps low-income families
TheStar.com – news/parentcentral.ca/parent/money/educationalsaving/resps
June 26, 2011. Louise Brown, Education Reporter
Even the bank teller didn’t know what a Canada Learning Bond was when Arlene Pimentel showed up to get one.
Three years after arriving in Canada from the Philippines, the new mother had no job, no income and no home of her own, but she knew something that more than 1 million Canadians like her do not: Ottawa will give low-income parents a nest egg for their child’s higher education.
Because she acted on this tip from her community centre, her son Luke, who is one, will have a $500 savings bond for future tuition, to which Ottawa will add $100 a year up to a maximum of $2,000. They need not kick in any money.
Luke’s father works at a car wash, his mother may need years to upgrade her nursing credentials and they all live with his grandparents in a townhouse near Regent Park.
“We don’t have anything, but at least we have education for our son — education is important to the individual and to the world,” proclaimed Pimentel, 37, who heard about the Canada Learning Bond at a Regent Park program called Parents for Better Beginnings. The Omega Foundation ran the workshop as part of its goal to spread awareness of the plan and boost the financial footing of Canada’s poorest families.
And it was easy, said Pimentel. They got Luke a social insurance number by applying online, then opened an RESP at the bank and applied for the learning bond, at no cost.
Yet in Toronto, some 78,000 eligible families don’t claim the Canada Learning Bond, even though it is open to any child born since 2004 whose net family income is no more than $41,000 a year.
Across Ontario, an alarming 405,000 eligible families don’t apply, according to Omega Executive Director May Wong.
“Research shows the impact of having even $2,000 saved for a child’s education is staggering, because it sends the expectation they will go to post-secondary education,” said Wong. “The mere existence of educational savings makes a child 50 per cent more likely to pursue post-secondary education,” she added, citing one Louisiana study where 11-year-olds spent more time on homework when they knew there was money saved for them for college.
The federal government has been trying to boost awareness of the program through forums such as one it hosted May 14 at the Scarborough Civic Centre, where 14 bankers from RBC who spoke a range of 17 languages helped 130 eligible families to apply. The Omega Foundation runs its “SmartSaver” information sessions at schools in low-income neighbourhoods and has planned a forum July 8 at Centennial College on Progress Road.
But now a province-wide student group wants Queen’s Park to help promote the federal plan as a way to fight the widening gap between low-income and high-income students’ participation in higher education. The number of low-income students enrolled full-time in Ontario universities has risen in the past 10 years to 50,000 from 40,000 — at the same time as the ranks of high-income students nearly doubled to 110,000 from 60,000, noted Sean Madden, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance.
“We think it would be perfect if the province automatically gave parents information on the program when they apply for a birth certificate or register their child for kindergarten, as a sort of one-stop portal,” said Madden. “We see the Canada Learning Bond as a way of levelling the playing field for low-income families.”
MPP John Milloy, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, met recently with the Omega Foundation and says he is “open to taking a look at ways we could help promote this excellent program, but I also wonder what the federal government is doing to promote it?”
Education minister Leona Dombrowsky sent a letter to parent involvement committees across the province in January, urging them to inform parents about the Canada Learning Bond. And the five largest banks are looking at ways of raising awareness, said Robin Walsh, vice-president of communications for the Canadian Bankers’ Association.
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