The top two officials of a state college funding agency pledged Tuesday to improve communication while resolving interest calculation issues that have plagued at least 500 account holders.
Maryland 529 Executive Director Anthony Savia and interim board chair Geoffrey Newman also told members of two state Senate committees that the agency would look to other states with 529 plans as models as it works to help families unable to access their Maryland Prepaid College Trust balances or whose accounts failed to accrue promised interest.
In addition, the agency has hired a liaison to work with lawmakers and contracted with Pressley Media Group to handle communications, Maryland 529 spokesperson Michelle Winner confirmed via email.
Also, the board plans to convene at 11 a.m. Monday, ahead of its scheduled Feb. 23 meeting, Newman told The Baltimore Sun.
Maryland 529 oversees two funding plans that allow parents to invest money tax-free for educational purposes: the trust and the Maryland College Investment Plan. The latter has not reported problems.
Some 500 parents who’ve invested in the trust have said since last April that they’ve been unable to access their money or their accounts have accrued much less interest than anticipated.
The agency said it has resolved problems with the majority of those accounts, but Savia acknowledged Tuesday that the number of accounts affected could be higher. Families with younger children aren’t seeking to access funds yet or may not check accounts as often as those with college students.
“In theory, it could impact all of the 31,000 accounts. In reality, I don’t believe that’s the case,” he told the committees, without elaborating further.
A handful of state colleges said they would consider requests to extend tuition deadlines for affected parents.
Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, asked Tuesday about the problems at an unrelated event, said his office would “continue to assess what exactly has happened” and make sure that “any challenges or miscalculations” are rectified.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Comptroller Brooke Lierman, who joined the Maryland 529 board last week as an ex officio member after taking office Jan. 16, urged the agency to “make parents whole” during a House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday.
The joint hearing Tuesday by the Senate’s Budget and Taxation and Education, Energy, and the Environment committees was Newman’s first public appearance since taking over for Peter Tsirigotis, who resigned as board chair Friday, a day after testifying before the House committee.
While both Savia and Newman told senators that most accounts’ issues have been rectified and no one lost funds, Democratic Sen. Sarah Elfreth of Anne Arundel County said she has heard otherwise from families.
“The board is at a point where it is confident that the calculation issue has been resolved and has begun providing manually calculated reports to account holders who need answers,” Newman said. “Approximately 419 have been completed by an outside [accounting] firm and are being sent out.”
Elfreth said one constituent emailed her a copy of their statement, which showed a lower balance than what it should have accrued at a 6% interest rate.
“It seems like the more we learn, the more questions we have,” Elfreth said.
The hearing concluded without either Savia or Newman giving a timeline for when the calculation issues might be fixed.
That frustrated attendees such as Heather Boley, who pays her daughters’ college tuitions using a trust account.
“In the appropriations hearing, it felt more like they were focused on the harm that has happened to some of our families,” she said. “This time, it was more about messaging and communication. The bigger picture is, how are they going to take care of those of us that are harmed?”
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.