Michigan League Links Literacy to Lawmakers
The Michigan Credit Union League has held its Legislative Financial Literacy Challenge for 10 years, so the basics are in place for this year’s event in April, according to Kieran Marion, director of government affairs.
Once again Michigan lawmakers will be invited to join with participating credit unions during National Financial Literacy Month for financial education events. Activities may take place in a school, credit union or elsewhere in a community.
A decade of experience doesn’t mean there isn’t some fine-tuning from time to time. For example, this year participating credit unions and lawmakers will receive a Biz Kid$ presentation kit from the National Credit Union Foundation including a DVD of a television episode. There will also be a printed lesson plan.
Legislators are invited to team up with a local credit union in the cooperative effort. In many cases a credit union is already involved in literacy education for young people and a lawmaker is invited to join in that program.
“It takes some planning to coordinate with legislators,” Marion noted. “They’re very busy people and schedules change. The credit union contacts the lawmaker to set a time. The legislator may actively participate in the presentation, and a lot of them like to do that.”
“In 2012, there were 25 matches. After last-minute schedule changes, of that number I think it was 18 or 19 that actually culminated in an event. There was a lot of positive press and media buzz.”
In the decade the program has been underway some new lawmakers have taken seats in the legislature and others have left, part of that turnover sparked by Michigan’s term limits law. But Marion said that hasn’t changed the receptivity of legislators to the financial literacy program. The league was able to explain credit union financial literacy efforts and present a video at a House Banking and Financial Services Committee hearing.
What draws legislators to the Legislative Financial Literacy Challenge?
“I think there are a couple things,” Marion answered. “Yes, there’s some positive news coverage. But I think there’s also genuine recognition of the importance of financial literacy. I think the state of the economy has absolutely increased awareness of the need for financial education.”
State Sen. John Proos (R-St. Joseph) has participated in the challenge for several years. Proos indicated he makes a point of visiting as often as he can schools from kindergarten through college, and taking part in the league’s program made perfect sense.
“There is much more interest in financial literacy because there isn’t anyone in Michigan who hasn’t felt the impact of the incredible downturn in the economy that we have experienced for well over a decade in this state,” Proos said.
The district Proos serves is in largely conservative southwest Michigan, so he relates personal finances to the budget crunch Michigan has faced and cutbacks the Republican majority legislature has enacted, reductions often lamented by those affected.
“I have talked about Michigan’s budget shortfalls and related that to the fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grade students, depending on which group I was working with. I talked about budgeting and living within your means,” Proos said.
“What was striking to me was that because we were talking about a topic that isn’t necessarily easy to discuss, the students felt the economic concerns more acutely than I had expected. They knew a family member who was unemployed or underemployed."