Although many students may groan at a list that includes Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry, plus another math course in the final year of high school, the league is backing legislation that would allow financial literacy education as an option for some of the math mandates.
League Senior Vice President Patrick La Pine said the effort is essentially a continuation of ongoing efforts to make more people savvy about handling their money.
"In 2002 there was nothing in the state statutes regarding financial literacy or financial education as a high school graduation requirement," La Pine recalled. "We worked with then State Rep. Mike Bishop to pass Public Act 111. It required the Michigan Department of Education to establish a model financial literacy curriculum and encourage public schools to teach courses in financial literacy."
"No other state had anything like it. Mike Bishop received an award from CUNA for that legislation, and is now the Senate majority leader."
The league recently discovered that S.B. 834, introduced by State Sen. Michael Switalski, in effect revisits Public Act 111 and qualifies financial education as an alternative to the new math requirements. The league contacted Switalski's office and has been supporting the bill.
In May the legislation passed the Senate unanimously and is now before the House Education Committee. La Pine figured it doesn't hurt that the committee chairman sits on a credit union advisory committee.
The league may be seeing a payback from its long-term efforts to work with legislators on financial literacy education. Every year in April the league encourages lawmakers to challenge their colleagues to spend a day in a classroom with a local credit union official who is teaching financial literacy courses. This year 26 credit unions and 40 lawmakers took part. The league reported 42,000 Michigan students were educated about saving, budgeting and credit by credit union staff during the 2006-2007 school year.
Last year the league helped train more than 400 teachers in financial literacy education approaches. The state also boasts 306 student-run credit union branches, more than any other state.
Is another factor behind the evidently strong support for S.B. 834 the fact that lawmakers have seen the headlines about people getting into trouble with mortgages they can't handle?
"Definitely," La Pine answered. "Michigan has been at the epicenter with other states like Florida, California and Ohio. We're the top four states in terms of foreclosures. We've been talking to our legislators about things we could do going forward. I hear horror stories all the time about people who didn't know they were getting an adjustable-rate mortgage when they signed their mortgage documents. They were told one thing and the loan document said something else."
La Pine noted the league created a full-time financial education coordinator position last year. The coordinator is working with credit unions and league chapters, primarily on adult financial education. This year the effort is focused on avoiding foreclosure.
"What I like about the proposed legislation is it's not another mandate," La Pine said. "There are only so many hours in the day. It's very difficult to add more requirements. The legislation won't create another required course. The legislation is a tool in the toolbox for teachers."