February 17, 2011

Blog: Educators inflated cost of financial literacy requirement, Franchot claims

Print More

Financial literacy new conference: From left, Del. Steve Schuh, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Del. Nancy Stocksdale, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Del. Jay Walker at podium.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot had some tough words for the state Department of Education, which said his proposal for a financial literacy course in all high schools would cost $16 million to implement.

“The state bureaucracy spiked this thing,” Franchot told reporters at a news conference before a hearing on the bill. “It’s a phony fiscal note.”

Fiscal notes are prepared for every piece of legislation that gets a hearing. They estimate what any proposal will cost state and local government to implement. After 16 years on the House Appropriations Committee, Franchot knows a thing or two about fiscal notes.

But the analysts in the Legislative Services Department who write up the notes often have to depend on the information they are given by state and local agencies. In this case, the Education Department said that a semester-long financial literacy course would require hiring one new teacher for 185 high schools at an average cost of $84,800 in salary and benefits.

To counter the education bureaucrats, Franchot trotted out recently retired Carroll County School Superintendent Charles Ecker. The super, a former Howard County executive, said he implemented a similar program in Carroll County high schools in 2007 for $37,700.

Franchot said he estimated the cost at $5,000 to $6,000 per high school, which would translate into only a about $1 million statewide, since nine of the 24 Maryland school systems already offer mandatory or elective financial literacy programs.

Curriculum and materials have already been developed. “We’ve already created these classes,” said Tammy Darvish, vice president of the DARCARS automotive group, and business people will teach them for free. “They’re cheap labor.”

Darvish said the need for these courses is obvious after seeing thousands of credit reports of people trying to buy a car.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see the damage that has been done,” Darvish said. “We see people in their teens and early twenties filing for bankruptcy,” with little awareness of how this will harm the rest of their lives, she said

Franchot said the number one reason people are turned down for employment by the federal government is not drug use or a criminal record, but bad credit.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Katherine Klausmeier and Del. Jay Walker, has bipartisan support.

The state education department last year issued regulations to implement a  financial literacy component integrated into other courses in elementary, middle and high schools. School systems are required to adopt the curriculum by September, but the department admits there is no state money to help them implement the curriculum or train teachers to provide it.

The legislation passed the Senate last year by a 46-1 vote March 24, but died late in the session in the House Ways & Means Committee.

–Len Lazarick
Len@Marylandreporter.com