Cost of Requiring Financial Literacy May be to High


ANNAPOLIS (March 5, 2009)—With his county one of the hardest hit by foreclosures and bankruptcy in a weakening economy, Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George's, said Wednesday he wants to make financial literacy mandatory for students, but he's willing to relax the requirements of a bill he proposed.

Muse told the Senate Committee on Education, Health and the Environment that after talking with school board members he plans to submit amendments to a bill that would make county high school students complete a semester-long course in financial literacy before they graduate.

"In delegation, I will introduce those amendments that would remove the course as a graduation requirement," he said.

Muse will amend his legislation to create a two-year pilot program at three high schools. He hopes the pilot program will work in conjunction with any financial literacy programs currently being developed by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Muse's original bill would have required a county with 800 planned layoffs to spend $4.9 million to hire 53 qualified teachers and purchase textbooks or other materials. The program would have begun in the 2010-2011 school year and included courses on household budgeting, consumer awareness and credit, among others.

The move to amend is likely to please county school board members who approved of the merits of Muse's proposal, but did not think it was appropriate for curriculum to be legislated.

Ron Watson, school board vice chair at large, said adding a new graduation requirement while some students are struggling to pass the state-mandated High School Assessments is "a little like putting the cart before the horse."

But Watson said he would like to see "something like" the financial program be implemented over time.

"I think it's very important," he said.

So does Edward Burroughs III, the student board member of Prince George's County Public Schools, who testified before the committee in favor of the bill.

He was not there to represent the board, but himself and his friends who have struggled with credit card debt and acquiring basic skills, such as balancing a checkbook. Schools need to teach more practical skills, Burroughs said.

"Things that I learn—quadratic equations—you're not going to retain any of that stuff. But what you will retain is learning practical skills that you can apply to everyday life," he said, adding he thinks financial literacy courses should be a graduation requirement.

"We have so many courses that are graduation requirements that you won't remember when you're done ... but this is a life lesson," he said.

Financial literacy is a life lesson the government has yet to learn, said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-Calvert, vice chair of the committee. He offered this warning to Burroughs after he testified: "Don't learn anything from us, really."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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