$2.5M boosts Mississippi's financial education efforts


Bill Moak, Consumer Watch
Published 11:00 a.m. CT Sept. 29, 2017

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A little more than a year ago, Forbes magazine announced a disturbing statistic: Nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a simple financial test consisting of basic questions about handling their financial affairs. For example, if asked to calculate the interest if you borrowed $1,000 for a year at 20 percent, not even four in 10 could correctly answer $200.

These findings served as a wake-up call, especially in a society in which so many decisions have to be made about money. Without adequate financial knowledge, adults are prone to make bad financial decisions, be potential victims of scams and crooks, and even face health consequences. Here in Mississippi, concerned government agencies and organizations have been pushing for years to ramp up financial education for our students.

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Groups such as the Mississippi Council on Economic Education have been working for years to train teachers, sometimes in collaboration with public and private agencies such as the office of State Treasurer Lynn Fitch. The council also runs successful financial literacy programs such as the Stock Market Game, a competitive game to teach investing skills to students. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I became a fan of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education while serving on its board a few years ago.)

But last week, those efforts got a much-needed jolt in the form of new partners and $2.5 million in cash, coming from an unlikely source: companies that violated consumer protection laws and a settlement with the nation’s three major credit bureaus. The two-year Making Sense of Your Dollars and ₵ents program will include the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, Fitch, Attorney General Jim Hood and the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The initiative will focus on training teachers at every level of K-12 education; providing incentives to teachers and schools to incorporate financial education into their students’ studies; supporting teachers with “innovative in-classroom and out-of-classroom learning experiences for their students,” building a financial wellness network and implementing financial coaching through community leaders to meet individual needs.

In a news release, Fitch applauded the Mississippi Council on Economic Education’s work and predicted the new program will boost existing efforts. “Together, we have trained more than 1,200 teachers in just three years, who can not only teach financial education curriculum, but also incorporate these lessons into classes of all types and for all ages,” she said. “This exciting new initiative with the attorney general will help expand on these efforts to bring this important life skill into even more classrooms across Mississippi.”

Hood noted his agency deals with Mississippians who have been the victims of financial fraud and scams, and believes some of those cases could have been prevented. “In fact,” he said, “this program is funded by settlements from banks and credit rating agencies who have caused extreme financial burden to Mississippians through their deceptive practices. We are proud to be teaming up with Treasurer Fitch, MCEE, and Mississippi State Extension Services to be a part of the solution to our state’s financial literacy problem.”

For its part, the MSU Extension Service will be helping train community leaders as they seek to develop their local economies, and helping them implement financial education in their local educational systems.

Teachers wanting to implement financial education in their classrooms can apply for free training through the program for the next two years, and the program will provide curriculum and continuing education. (To find out more, visit www.mscee.org.)

“MCEE is so thankful for the opportunity to work with both Treasurer Fitch and General Hood on the mission of creating Mississippi citizens who are financially literate,” said Selena Swartzfager, president of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education.

Contact Bill Moak at moakconsumer@gmail.com.

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