By Barbara Pash
State agencies are reporting mixed results in implementing the recommendations of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Financial Literacy.
Most of the state’s 24 school systems “will have some component ready to go this fall, but they won’t be as ready to implement [the curriculum] as we had hoped,” said Katharine Oliver, the Maryland State Department of Education’s assistant state superintendent for career and college readiness.
Oliver presented her report at a meeting last Friday on progress on the 2010 recommendations of the task force on financial literacy that was co-chaired by Del. Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, and Sen. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s.
In its recommendation on public education, the task force required the Maryland State Department of Education to develop and implement age-appropriate financial literacy curriculum for grades 3 to 12 by September 2011.
In 2010, the state board approved the curriculum that the department had developed in “bands,” for elementary school grades 3 to 5, middle school grades 6 to 8, and high school grades 9 to 12.
School programs vary
Because of the difficulty of devising a curriculum that works for all 24 jurisdictions, the programs apparently will vary, mainly at the high school level. “How many are designating a course or incorporating [financial literacy information] into other courses? We don’t know,” Oliver said.
The jurisdictions had a June 1 deadline for the education department to certify their programs. “The phone calls are starting to come in,” Oliver said of the different ways the school jurisdictions will implement financial literacy.
Comptroller Peter Franchot and a bipartisan coalition of senators and delegates have continued to press for legislation requiring a separate financial literacy curriculum in schools, but the school systems have opposed the requirement. A bill passed the Senate in April that would have required a plan for such a curriculum, but no action was taken on the measure in the House of Delegates.
In preparation for the financial literacy curriculum, Allen Cox, managing director of the Maryland Coalition for Financial Literacy, has been conducting teacher training sessions around the state.
He said that Baltimore County administrators decided they could not integrate financial literacy into existing courses. Instead, grades 6, 7 and 8 each will get 10 days devoted to financial literacy instruction. In St. Mary’s County, financial literacy will be taught in government courses as well as in a new mathematics course.
Cox said the teacher training was much needed, not only so the teachers could teach the subject to their students, but so they could learn for themselves as well. “Often, they didn’t know much themselves. They asked a lot of questions about personal finances,” he said.
In the higher education recommendation, the task force urged authorities to mandate financial literacy education for students. Jackie Brown, director of government relations at Prince George’s Community College, said that all 15 community colleges in Maryland provide financial literacy information in student orientation and in financial aid requests.
Some community colleges also offer voluntary financial education programs, as Cecil College did recently, and non-credit courses on the subject are available. But to mandate a course as a graduation requirement is problematic, Brown said.
Speaking for the University System of Maryland (USM), Andrew Clark, director of legislative affairs, reiterated that point. USM “offers [voluntary] financial literacy on its campuses in various forms but the provosts are concerned about mandating an additional course” for graduation at USM’s 12 campuses, Clark said.
“The provosts and the chief academic officers at each campus talk more about the difficulty of implementing” such a requirement for the diverse student population than they do about devising a course that would, in any case, “have to be tailored to the individual campus,” Clark said.
In the residential mortgage recommendation, the task force required lenders to provide information to first-time home-buyers about housing counseling programs and services.
The Department of Housing and Community Development is responsible for implementing this recommendation. Carol Gilbert, assistant secretary for neighborhood revitalization, reported the housing department supports a network of about 40 nonprofit housing counseling agencies that last year assisted more than 15,000 consumers who opted for the foreclosure prevention counseling.
“We feel this new program is working,” Gilbert said.