I recently wrote a guest post for the Missouri State Teachers Association about my history involving personal financial skills education and legislation. The post on their site can be found here. Below is the extended directors cut of my editorial. Feel free to share your thoughts here and on the MSTA blog.
Financial Education Workshop Canceled; Rome Burns
Recently a workshop by the Missouri State Teachers Association for increasing teachers’ skills in personal finance education was canceled.
The reason? A lack of registrations.
As a Missourian, a product of our public schools, and a former Chief of Staff in the Missouri State Senate, I was disappointed to read this news. (But, as a social media entrepreneur I was pleased to see it over twitter.)
During more than seven years working at the side of Senator Dan Clemens, who represented parts of southwest Missouri in the 20th District, one of the loudest grumblings we heard from constituents involved the lack of financial skills in a noticeable segment of student-age Missourians. Bankers complained, employers belly-ached, and neighbors – including educators - told stories of cashiers who couldn’t make proper change.
A commitment to increasing personal finance skills was born and the ‘Financial Independence through Education Act’ was drafted, presented, and died on a busy legislative calendar vine every year from 2006 to 2010.
Missouri currently ranks 16th in bankruptcy based on per capita filings, with more than 32,000 of our neighbors filing for debt forgiveness in 2010. 7 out of 10 have filed Chapter 7 requesting total forgiveness. (creditcards.com)
According to the unofficial reports from financial leaders, the average personal bank account balance in Missouri is less than $400.
The problem is the availability of credit to almost anyone coupled with the lack of education on what credit is and how it works. On top of that, we must also consider that many Missourians lack understanding when it comes to property and life insurance, retirement and personal investments, the cost of healthcare, and the social security program.
You may recall that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in a wonderful first step in 2005, changed our graduation requirements to include a half-credit of personal finance. They were urged by the 91st General Assembly to do just that in 2001 when they passed a resolution urging this with ninety-four percent of legislators in favor and not one vote in opposition in the Senate. And this is when Democrats held the majority and the Governor’s office.
Clemens and I maintained throughout our legislative career, as did many fellow elected representatives, parents, students, and financial professionals, that the new requirements did not go far enough, fast enough.
Fast enough, you ask? I am praising legislative action from ten years ago and DESE action from six years ago. So the real question is how many graduates since those halcyon days are now involved in bankruptcy proceedings?
More must be done. For instance, any teacher can teach this class, there is no requirement of financial competency to teach our students financial competency. Secondly, schools can allow students to test out of the program. And curriculum is only suggested, not defined.
The original bill introduced (SB794, 2006) prevented test outs unless the student successfully passed one semester of the class and required four year-long courses in personal finance education for the rest. It also allowed financial professionals to assist or teach these classes.
While some objected to parts of the bill, including the Education Committee chair at the time due to extra burdens being placed on educators, none could say that it was not, and still not, needed.
In fact, some told us the bill did not go far enough. Some say financial education should begin at the elementary school level and should only be taught by experts in the financial fields. We looked at the bill as a second step to DESE’s rules change and something that must be continually revisited by DESE and the legislature at the minimum of every two years.
I do realize many of these skills should be taught at home and some parents are teaching these skills. But our most at risk students become our most at risk adult Missourians when we do not expose them to these basic financial survival skills while in school.
The personal finance education atmosphere has improved here since 2006 and for that I am grateful. But it is only through continual improvement, introspection, and open minds we will improve our future: the students.
But when headlines read, “FEBRUARY CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY FILINGS INCREASE 11 PERCENT FROM PREVIOUS MONTH” (ABIWorld.org, 3.1.2011) and tweets read “Central Region Personal Finance workshop is CANCELED due to lack of registrations.” (@MSTA, 3.7.2011), our work is not finished nor good enough. I believe we can and ought to do better.
Gus Wagner, of Jefferson City, spent eight years as a Chief of Staff in the Missouri State Senate. His company, The Rocket Group, is celebrating its 10th anniversary of improving web, graphic and social media tools for clients in business, politics, and government. His own credit score is above average but not excellent.