Tishaura Jones knows a good idea when she sees one. After all, she says, why reinvent the wheel? So before she took office as St. Louis’ treasurer, she turned to others she admired from her private-sector banking days and picked their brains. That’s how she learned of a program in San Francisco that creates a savings account for every public school student in the city. Jones has brought that concept to St. Louis and now she estimates that in five years, every student there will have a savings account. She’s also taking a cue from Chicago to help address St. Louis’ status as third in the country in the number of unbanked minority households. The Windy City has partnered with financial institutions to offer alternative financing to the unbanked in an effort to combat predatory lending.
Jones’ political career, which includes two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, began in 2002. She grew up surrounded by politics, watching her father rise to the post of St. Louis controller. Even so, she initially swore off a political career for herself. But after being asked to run as the Democratic committeewoman for her ward, she was hooked. “I guess there are some things that are inherent in your genetic makeup you can’t ignore,” she says. “Taking that position woke up something and I decided to take advantage of it.”