- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

Financial literacy is the focus of a task force set up by the Maryland General Assembly to help residents get through today’s turbulent economic times.

The task force, which held its first meeting earlier this month, will recommend ways to increase the level of knowledge and to promote financial literacy in schools.

Mena Lofland, a teacher at Suitland High School in Forestville, is encouraged.

She says the school system isn’t preparing students for the real world. In her entrepreneurship classes, she tries to teach financial literacy by presenting students with real-life situations.

“I’m not pleased with what has been taken out of schools and the lack of addressing money issues in No Child Left Behind,” Ms. Lofland said.

“We wonder why kids can’t manage their money when they get out of school or go to college. Simple things can make their lives easier and make them so much better prepared for this world.”

Ms. Lofland hopes that the task force will be successful in helping students gain better financial literacy and that they will go “beyond talking.”

Delegate Dana M. Stein, Baltimore Democrat, and Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George’s Democrat, will head the Maryland Financial Literacy Task Force. The two sponsored bills to make the task force a reality.

“From my point of view, there is a feeling that financial literacy of young adults needs to be improved, and exhibit A is the subprime mortgage crisis,” said Mr. Stein. “There is a lot of interest in this topic, and financial literacy needs to be explored because of the need for assistance due to the crunch we’re all feeling right now.”

Each member of the task force was approved by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley before being selected to serve with the group. Members include people with backgrounds in the educational, financial and governmental sectors in hope of creating a well-rounded base to generate informed ideas.

The task force will generate reforms for both adults and children; however, its initial efforts will focus on education reform in an attempt to provide the General Assembly with possible ideas by the end of the year.

Thom Beck, president and CEO of Montgomery County Teachers Federal Credit Union, is one of the 21 members chosen to help Marylanders become more financially savvy. Mr. Beck says the group wants to help reform the current education system to be more universal, without actually mandating a specific curriculum.

“This should be the subject matter for every school system in the state of Maryland,” Mr. Beck said. “Is financial literacy going to be a baseline to graduate like science or math? That’s the autonomy the school systems should have instead of the state.”

In order to have adequate time to look into the private sector and adult education, Mr. Stein said the task force will most likely seek an extension to see what employers can do to help their workers make better financial decisions. That research should begin early next year.

The timeline for the task force was scheduled to end on June 30, 2009, but an extension would push it back another six months to the end of 2009.

Mr. Beck is optimistic that they will be able to provide strong insight to help people become financially literate.

“This is our opportunity to educate Marylanders about financial literacy, and I’m encouraged that the legislature and the governor have their eye on it now that we are seeing everything with the current economy,” he said. “I think people are really zeroed in on doing it right now.”

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