Otter marks 15th anniversary of Idaho’s college savings program

Ten-year-old Simon Salisbury walked out of Gov. Butch Otter’s office with two of the best souvenirs anybody could hope for Monday.

Simon, a fifth-grader at Moscow’s Lena Whitmore Elementary, and his mom, Kim, participated in the 15th anniversary celebration inside Otter’s office for IDeal, Idaho’s 529 College Savings Program.

The Salisbury family has been saving up for college for about four years under the program. In conjunction with the anniversary celebration, Kim and Simon won a $1,500 state contest for sharing their IDeal story, and traveled to Boise to participate in Monday’s ceremony and accept their prize.

That was the first souvenir.

But then someone joked with Simon about missing school to attend the celebration and claim his prize.

Not to worry, though.

Otter overhead the conversation and quietly walked back to his private office. A moment later, the governor returned.

He offered a fist-bump to Simon and gave him a hand-written note asking Simon’s teachers to excuse him from class at Lena Whitmore. Otter wrote that he summoned Simon to his office for an important meeting to “talk about an exciting opportunity — college.”

It was written on official stationary from the governor’s office and signed by Otter.

That’s the second souvenir.

Simon was a little overwhelmed by it all. (His day started with a noisy plane trip to Boise — via Seattle — and this was his first visit to the Statehouse. He loved all shiny white marble.)

IDeal was created by the Legislature in 2001 and has helped more than 37,500 Idaho families save for college, state officials said. Since its inception, more than $3.9 million has been given to IDeal beneficiaries. IDeal also offers a state tax deduction, and the program is administered by the Idaho College Savings Program Board.

Otter, who said he was the only child from his family of nine who got to go to college, praised the program as helping Idaho families overcome one of the main burdens to higher education — cost. He also said starting an IDeal savings account when children are young automatically creates a college-going mentality among families.

Simon agreed, saying he is already thinking about attending University of Idaho and studying agriculture.

“So I can get a good education,” Simon said.

His mom believes the savings account has already given them a head start.

“The numbers add up so it seems like the right thing to do to save a little bit at a time so you don’t have to come up with it all at once and he doesn’t have to go into debt while he’s in college,” Kim said.

By Tuesday, Simon should be back at home and at school, armed with a year’s worth of bragging rights on the playground and a head start on his future.

“It just been a great day it’s just been a lot of fun,” Kim said.