By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 22, 2018…..Refinancing and rates of return could join reading and ‘rithmetic among the staples of a Bay State student’s education, and lenders might be barred from sending unsolicited loan offers under a pair of bills passed Thursday by the Senate.
The chamber also passed a popular bill (S 2306) that would incorporate civics education into public schooling, including a requirement that would take effect in a few years for students to complete a civics project to graduate. The bill could provide an antidote to the polarized climate that ails the current American political system, supporters said.
Financial literacy has been the focus of public officials, including Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who have tried compel more people around the state to pay more active attention to their finances. A Sen. Jamie Eldridge bill (S 249) would standardize instruction about debt and savings throughout the state education system.
“Today’s youth are bombarded with a multitude of financial options and responsibilities at an increasingly young age, yet many are ill-equipped to make informed decisions about financial matters,” Eldridge said in a statement. “By teaching children the financial education basics in school, we will help them make educated financial decisions in the future, preventing future bankruptcies, foreclosures, and unmanageable debt. The investment we make in teaching our children financial literacy now will pay substantial future dividends.”
Just as the Great Recession that cratered housing markets and wiped out retirement savings a decade ago helped draw attention to the importance of financial literacy, more recent national events have provided an impetus for encouraging students to learn more about their government and the news media.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said civics education would equip the next generation to “sustain our democracy.”
“This last year, of course, has drawn into sharp relief how far we have fallen short as a country at meeting this goal. Misinformation and dare I say disinformation proliferate. Partisan polarization quickly leads to ideological silos, leaving Americans increasingly isolated from one another. Millions stay home on Election Day,” Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “The ideologies of hate, bigotry, white supremacy and authoritarianism are on the rise, madam president. This is certainly not a portrait of a healthy democracy.”
Unlike some of the Senate’s legislative priorities, there is buy-in from House leadership on the civics education bill (S 2306), too.
“I think probably the last year in terms of what’s going on in the country, in particular, has convinced me about the need for further civic education,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in January.
The bill would require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to ensure the all public schools “prepare students, morally and intellectually, for the duties of citizenship.” That education would include learning about the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution that preceded it, flag etiquette and the “importance of participation in the electoral process.”
Before passing the bill on a 32-4 vote, the Senate voted along party lines to reject an amendment from Minority Leader Bruce Tarr that would have required the civics framework to also include “respectful tolerance of differing opinions.” The chamber’s six other Republicans joined Tarr in backing the measure, while Senate President Harriette Chandler and 28 other Democrats opposed it.
Chang-Diaz said the bill’s existing language covered the same idea, and changing it would bring it out of line with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s ongoing work on civics curriculum.
“I cannot believe, Madam President, given the climate that we see in our country, that the members of the Senate would not want to stand for the proposition that our children should be taught about the respectful tolerance of differing opinions,” Tarr said.
The Senate on Thursday also adopted legislation (S 143) barring entities from issuing an unsolicited negotiable check or money order to activate a loan. Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives said the bill aims to protect those who might otherwise be tempted to cash a check that arrives for them in the mail. Further inquiry would reveal those checks have expensive strings attached, she said.
“For some people that don’t read the fine print and take advantage of these live checks, they’re burdened with very unfavorable terms,” the Newburyport Democrat said. O’Connor Ives claimed interest rates on the types of borrowing her bill would address can reach as high as 600 percent.
Those who issue the types of financial instruments banned by the bill could be fined up to $5,000 per issuance, under the legislation.
[Katie Lannan contributed reporting.]