State treasurer urges mandatory financial literacy training for Mississippi students

The Mississippi Council on Economic Education got a boost on the 10th anniversary of its founding with a call from State Treasurer Lynn Fitch for the state’s public schools to add financial literacy as mandatory instruction.

Four states — Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and Utah — require a semester of instruction in personal finance. “We need to be number five,” Fitch said to a luncheon audience at the 10th-annual U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran Forum on American Enterprise last Tuesday.

The forum is the annual gathering of members and supporters of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, a partnership with Mississippi’s major universities that has trained “master” teachers in economics who have brought economic and financial instruction to about 800,000 students in the state’s public, private and parochial schools.

The teachers also develop entrepreneurial labs at which students develop business models and engage in mock stock market trading.

Getting financial literacy included in the state’s required curriculum would fulfill the vision of Mississippi Council on Economic Education founders former Gov. William Winter and John T. Dillion, chairman and CEO of International Paper. The two launched the statewide initiative a decade ago with the goal of requiring economics courses as a requirement for obtaining a high school diploma.

In addition to the four states that mandate financial literacy instruction, 19 states require the training to be incorporated into other classroom instruction, according to the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Mississippi is among the states with no requirements in place.

Fitch wants that changed. “We’ve just come so far” since the creation of the Council on Economic Education, she said.

Without introducing each student to the ins-and-outs of spending, borrowing, budgeting household finances, “it’s going to be pretty tough for them to move along in life,” she said.

“Let’s change the culture… and I think it starts with financial literacy,” added Fitch, a former bond lawyer and only the second woman to serve as Mississippi’s state treasurer.

The Magnolia State culture Fitch referred to is a habitual leader nationally in delinquent credit card and home mortgage debt. The state also is among the leaders in payday lending outlets.

Yet the state has made strides in teaching its youngsters the fundamentals of prudent spending and budgeting and consistently ranks among the top 10 states for effectiveness and efficiency of its economic education programs, council representatives say.

Cochran, whose legislative work has kept him from the forum the past few years, noted the council’s key success has been to make economic education a “singular priority” in Mississippi schools. He praised the goal set of having at least one master economics teacher in each school district. “These teachers are why we have enjoyed the success of reaching over 800,000 of our students,” he said.

“Financial literacy on the personal level is important to successful living in today’s modern society.”

Mississippi’s business leaders have provided huge support toward helping the Council on Economic Education achieve its goals over the last decade, said council Chair Mark Blackwell, area private wealth executive for Regions Financial Corp.

In exchange, the council is helping to provide businesses “a workforce better prepared for a global marketplace,” he said.

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