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OPINION: More financial responsibility needed

Today’s economic challenges have caused us to look more closely at not only the financial practices of large companies, but also the habits of individual Americans regarding personal finance. As the problems facing our economy have become more serious, we have also realized the need for a stronger sense of financial responsibility.

Americans need to learn more about general economic principles and how to apply them to daily financial decisions, and programs are being put into place to assist in improving financial literacy among teenagers as well as young adults. Recently, I introduced the Financial and Economic Literacy Improvement Act of 2009, which authorizes funding for grants to state organizations seeking to provide economic education programs.

In Mississippi, we are a step ahead because of recent efforts in our state to improve the quality and availability of economic education.

Several years ago, leaders in Mississippi recognized the lack of financial literacy among many in our state and put programs in place to improve economic education opportunities. In 2002, business leaders and private citizens joined together to form the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE), which works to improve K-12 economics curriculum in our State.

The Mississippi Council on Economic Education also helps provide training for teachers in the subject of economics. The progress that has been made in just a few short years is very impressive.

Recent studies show that after earning the Master Teacher of Economics certificate through one of the Council’s partner universities, teachers see their economic literacy scores rise by an average of 24 points. Students’ scores increase by 66 percent when their teachers use the Financial Fitness for Life program. High school students who participate in the MCEE sponsored Stock Market Game score eight percent higher on a test of economic literacy.

These statistics are all the more impressive when you understand the reach of the program. In just four years of programming, the Mississippi Council on Economic Education has reached 3,200 teachers who are in turn teaching 320,000 students each year.

In Mississippi, we are working to increase development and improve local economies. One of the best investments we can make toward that goal is to ensure that our young people are knowledgeable in the fundamentals of economics.

It is my hope that the Financial and Economic Literacy Improvement Act of 2009 will provide the resources needed to help the Mississippi Council on Economic Education continue its success and provide incentives for other states to begin and sustain similar programs.

A fundamental knowledge of general economic principles provides a greater understanding of our national economy and allows us to make good decisions regarding personal finances. Understanding economic theories and being able to recognize them in practice helps prepare individuals for employment in a global marketplace. These tools are crucial not only for individual success but also for our society as a whole.

Never has financial and economic literacy been more important than it is today, and never has it been more important for our students to learn about the basic principles of economics and personal finance. I am proud of the progress that Mississippi has made in economic education and hope that the Financial and Economic Literacy Improvement Act will enable more states to implement programs to improve financial literacy.

Sen. Thad Cochran, a member of the United States Senate from Mississippi, contributed this Op-Ed column for the Mississippi Business Journal. For a public official or newsmaker to contribute an Op-Ed column, contact MBJ Managing Editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

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