Education & Workforce Development and Philanthropy

Banks enroll to help educators: As Indiana falls behind, financial literacy programs blossom

May 15, 2006

Their answer: a need. As in, one cannot exist without food, shelter and a $175 pair of sneakers.

While the marketing folks at Nike would smile at the association, it makes personal finance experts like Avery cringe. They say it's another example of an alarming level of financial ignorance that has allowed nationwide consumer debt to zoom past $2 trillion.

And the pain is especially acute in Indiana.

"You don't have to look far beyond the bankruptcy and foreclosure statistics in Indiana to understand people don't have a good handle on what finance means," said Avery, who visited Greenbriar as part of the Indiana Bankers Association's Teach Children to Save Day.

Indiana now has the dubious honor of leading the country in both foreclosures and bankruptcies, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Mortgage Bankers Association and the Alexandria, Va.-based American Bankruptcy Institute.

Experts hope an avalanche of new financial literacy efforts, however, puts a dent in those numbers by teaching school-age children that $175 sneakers are a luxury, not a necessity. The Indiana Department of Education requires all students to learn certain piggy-bank basics.

In kindergarten, that means learning the correlation between having a job and earning enough money to pay the bills. By fifth grade, students should know the essentials of a personal budget-i.e., wait for the Jordans to go on sale or buy last year's model. The importance of banks and credit are introduced in grade eight.

Untested

"[Financial literacy] is well-covered within Indiana academic standards," said Mark Shoup, spokesman for the Indiana State Teachers Association.

However, the state does not test to see if students retain the information, which falls under social studies. The state's mandatory test, ISTEP, covers only math and language arts.

"In a lot of ways, that means these concepts get marginalized," said Jeff Sanson, program coordinator for the Indiana Council for Economic Education, a not-forprofit that offers financial literacy programming.

The Indiana Department of Education recognizes the problem. It has asked for funding to test social studies before and will likely do it again next session, said spokeswoman Mary Jane Michalak.

The agency estimates it would cost $6 million to develop social studies tests for grades 5, 7 and 9, and it would cost an additional $4.5 annually to implement the tests.

In the meantime, banks are stepping in to help teachers, which worries some observers.

New York-based Chase, for instance, will provide financial literacy curriculum to 75 second- and third-grade classes throughout Indiana next school year.

The bank, however, isn't designing the program. It's working with Lake Bluff, Ill.-based Money Savvy Generation, which has designed a plug-and-play financial literacy curriculum for elementary school teachers. Business Week magazine named it one of the best products of 2002.

Money Savvy's primary tool is a plastic see-through piggy bank that's divided into four sections: save, spend, donate and invest. Each student gets one to take home as part of the curriculum. The piggy banks handed out through the partnership with Chase also have a Chase logo on them.

Experts applaud the corporate generosity, but question the ad-creep.

"We have to be very careful because often corporate philanthropy, while much appreciated and needed, is tied to [a bank's] marketing goals," said Robert Duvall, CEO of the New York-based National Council on Economic Education, a nonpartisan organization. "And teachers are suspicious of things that seem to be selling."

Chase, however, defends the program.

"This is part of our philanthropy," said spokeswoman Nancy Norris. "It's not about sales; it's not about product. This is about being a good corporate citizen."

Supplying the curriculum to the 75 schools will cost Chase $65,000. And the bank might expand the partnership to other states in its footprint if its efforts in Indiana are successful.

Chase's philanthropy budget in Indiana is $3 million this year. Norris said a "good portion" of that would go toward financial literacy.

Teachers are happy to have the help.

"They don't resent it," said Mark Shoup, spokesman for the Indiana State Teachers Association. "Oftentimes, they see it as a good complement."

Shoup previously taught English at Carmel High School. He remembers inviting a high-powered attorney in an "expensive Italian suit and nice shoes" to lecture his class about the importance of good writing skills.

The students listened.

"I couldn't buy that kind of instruction," Shoup said. That's no different from an experienced banker like Avery showing up to talk about the economics of a lemonade stand, he said.

Congressional budgeting

Chase's partnership is far from the only effort taking form.

Locally, Networks Financial Institute just put the finishing touches on the Money Bus, a converted school bus that features interactive lessons such as how to See EDUCATION next page use a debit card and how to save for college. The bus will visit 40 Indiana schools next year.

The Bankers Association's Teach Children to Save Day attracted bankers from 71 institutions this year, up from 59 last year.

"It's the job of banks to build communities," said Laura Wilson, a spokeswoman for the association, who organized the day. "The stronger the community, the stronger the bank."

In 2004, a number of local organizations also formed the Indiana Financial Literacy Coalition to facilitate the blossoming number of financial literacy efforts.

At the federal level, Congress has now designated April Financial Literacy Month and the Senate has created a Financial and Economic Literacy caucus.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003 also established a Financial Literacy and Education Commission that has just released a white paper titled a "National Strategy for Financial Literacy."

Duvall, of the National Council on Economic Education, worries there might be too many cooks in the financial literacy kitchen.

"First, we had the recognition of the problem," he said. "Then, we had the let-1,000-flowers-bloom approach. Now, we need to pull together more."

As for First Indiana's Avery, he said "a few" students from the class at Greenbriar probably took home some useful information. Others didn't seem to grasp the concept, he said, and would probably spend the paychecks from their first jobs on the latest must-have athletic accessory.

Wilson, from the Bankers Association, wasn't so pessimistic.

"The real success will be measured in 20 years," she said.
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