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MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin credit unions are taking a growing interest in the Wisconsin Institute Teacher Education Series, the innovative summer program created by the Wisconsin Jump$tart Coalition to provide teachers with the tools and training to educate students about finances. “It’s the next best thing to getting (financial education) mandated in the high schools,” said Kim Sponem, president and CEO of CUNA Credit Union in Madison. Proposals to get a course required in the high schools have not found the needed state legislative support because it would be an unfunded mandate. The Wisconsin Jump$tart Coalition sees a desperate need for financial literacy. The all-volunteer, non-profit group of Wisconsin businesses, government agencies, financial institutions, education organizations and individuals notes that by educating the next generation to avoid bankruptcies and have less money tied up in credit it will improve the nation’s economy and create a more stable society. The teacher education series was created in 2001 with a one-week inaugural session. Two days were added in 2002 and 2003 saw two complete one-week sessions. This year, three one-week sessions are offered. CUNA Credit Union will sponsor a teacher in the July session. “This is the first year we’ve gotten behind this,” says Sponem. “There’s just such a tremendous need for kids to learn not just financial basics but that there are lot of choices. You see a lot of early mistakes with credit.” Sponem said credit unions in the Madison Area Chapter, of which CUNA is a member, will sponsor 12 teachers at the July session and the chapter will sponsor a box supper. “Next year our chapter wants to double what we’ve got here in terms of sponsorships. Since this is first year, we feel like we’ve done a pretty good job but next year we want to get more involved.” The sponsorships will build on the relationships credit unions have with area teachers. Sponem said CUNA Credit Union representatives already help teach courses when teachers want a specific topic such as lending, credit reports or checking accounts addressed. Wisconsin credit unions or chapters will sponsor 25 teachers this year with registration for August still open. The sessions look at: * Financial milestones and entrepreneurship, covering such topics as renting, buying a home, buying a car, Social Security and entrepreneurship. * Saving, investing and insurance, covering risk and reward, savings and investing alternatives, basics of the market economy, the price/earnings ratio and the stock market. * Credit and money, including budgeting, credit, consumer rights, fraud and credit reporting. The Lakeland Area Chapter of Credit Unions also sponsors a teacher for the first time this year. Karen Krug, chapter president and president/CEO of St. Agnes Employees Credit Union, said the chapter “got involved because we realize that there are a lot of students that need to be educated on financial matters.” In exchange for sponsoring Sandra Linde, a high school business education teacher, Linde will present present a course for high school juniors and seniors who are members of the chapter’s credit unions. Linde, who attended the June session, says it was “awesome, a really great program. I think the biggest thing was when they brought in people to share their stories. Entrepreneurs talked about their experiences. Experts talked about retirement and other things you don’t get out of the textbook. A credit union representative explained better ways to teach in the classroom and gave out handouts. We don’t have resources unless we go and hunt for them. There were fun exercises to get kids to learn.” The sessions are packed with information, says Linde. “One night it didn’t end until 7 p.m. I felt knowledge overload by Wednesday but you definitely come out with a lot. I would highly recommend the class.” Patrick Josephson, president of Horizon Community Credit Union in Green Bay, sponsored Paul Lotto, a high school business education teacher with whom the credit union has worked. “Paul had mentioned that he was looking into attending a session and we told him we would sponsor him. We are here to support and educate young people on how to handle money.” The Wisconsin institute draws interest from outside the state. This year, a New Hampshire attendee is set for the August session. A group from the West Virginia Jump$tart Coalition attended a couple of years ago. Justin Southern, financial literacy specialist with the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office Securities Commission, was part of that group. “We had heard about the Wisconsin program and knew we wanted to do something similar,” says Southern. The West Virginia academy recently completed its second annual one-week session and there are plans to grow next year’s effort. -

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