Financial Literacy Resources

April is Financial Literacy Month, and one of the three resolutions passed at the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention called for the Illinois PTA to advocate for schools to incorporate financial literacy education into their existing curricula. Financial literacy is critical for students to acquire, as managing money, purchasing a car or house, saving for a child’s education and for retirement are all essential skills for adults. Add to that the challenge of managing student loan debt, which now exceeds credit card debt in the US, and students graduating from high school or college face far greater financial challenges than their parents did.

Here are some resources that PTAs, teachers, and school districts can use to incorporate financial literacy into their curricula aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards.

  • The University of Illinois Financial Literacy Program: Run by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Business school, these resources are primarily aimed at high school students and teachers. Among the resources is the University of Illinois Securities Exchange Simulation (UISES) that allows high school students to buy and sell equities just like real investors using the same web-based simulation that UIUC’s business school uses to teach undergraduates, MSF, and MBA students.
  • The Illinois Bankers Association: IBA resources include links to programs that help students build their financial literacy skills, including the US Federal Reserve’s education materials.
  • Council for Economic Education: The CEE has developed K-12 standards for financial literacy that are aligned with and connected to the Common Core State Standards (and thus the Illinois Learning Standards), allowing financial literacy materials to be used to teach to current standards. CEE also provides materials on assessing students’ financial literacy knowledge and skills as well as offering professional development materials to help teachers feel comfortable with the materials. Also available is the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum that has teacher, student, and parent guides.
  • National Education Association: The NEA teachers’ union provides resources for teaching financial literacy, including lesson plans, lesson sets, games, and background resources aimed directly at the teacher in the classroom.
  • Money as You Learn: Developed as part of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, Money as You Learn provides teachers with Common Core aligned texts, lessons, and tasks that connect the Common Core to real life applications while also equipping students with the knowledge needed to make smart financial decisions.
  • Junior Achievement: Junior Achievement has provided students with hands-on financial and economic experience for years. Junior Achievement programs could be incorporated into the classroom or run by a PTA as a separate program.
  • Making Cents: The Making Cents Project is a cooperative effort of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Penn State University aimed at improving personal finance and economic education throughout the state. Though targeted at Pennsylvania, the project has archived webinars (both slides and videos) for teachers, curriculum resources, a model high school personal finance course, and research results on economic and financial literacy education.

Please share these resources with your school district and your principal, encourage them to use financial literacy materials to teach the Illinois Learning Standards they are already focused on, and consider how your PTA can support financial literacy education at your school through programs and events.

Photo © 2003 by Jacob Edward under Creative Commons license.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Report on Young Adults in the Justice System

Delegates at the 2016 Illinois PTA Convention passed a resolution creating a committee to study whether those young adults aged 18 to 21 involved in the justice system should be treated differently from older adults based on the latest scientific research on brain development. At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, that study committee presented its report and recommendations. The report presents the three areas of focus that the committee investigated—brain development, age divisions, and what other jurisdictions are doing, both in the United States and overseas.

Brain Development

The report notes that current research into how the brain develops indicates that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that regulates self-control and reasoning—continues to develop well into a person’s mid-20s. In addition, a recent study indicated that when faced with a threat or “negative emotional arousal,” those aged 18 to 21 had diminished cognitive performance—essentially reacting like a much younger teenager would. Additional research has shown that the lack of judgement and willingness to take risks continues to approximately age 25. This “maturity gap” is what has had older adults talking about “those crazy kids” and the stupid or dangerous things they do for centuries.

Age Divisions

Under the current legal structures in Illinois and the United States, young people become mature, responsible adults on their 18th birthday, and when they commit a crime, they are treated as such. But as the research noted above indicates, turning 18 is not an accurate dividing line between youth and adulthood when it comes to judgement and responsible behavior. When looking at crime and arrest data, approximately 30% of those arrested are between the ages of 18 and 25, with a sharp decrease in first-time arrests after age 25. In addition, the research also indicates that those young adults ages 18 to 25 are much less likely to be arrested again for crimes when diverted away from the standard adult justice system. Finally, much of the literature on how to treat these young adults in the justice system recommends a two-tiered system, treating those ages 18 to 21 more like juveniles while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults.

Other Jurisdictions

Several states and other countries are beginning to incorporate the latest research into brain development and information drawn from crime statistics to change how they treat young adults in the justice system. In 2016, Vermont passed a law allowing defendants ages 18 to 21 who are not charged with specific serious crimes to apply for youth offender status, allowing them to be tried in the juvenile justice system. California has recently begun a pilot program in five counties that allows those 18 to 21 who have not committed serious crimes to use the education and support services of the juvenile justice system, serve one year of their sentence at a juvenile facility, and have their criminal record expunged if they successfully complete the program. Massachusetts and Connecticut have both had legislation introduced to increase the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. Overseas, Italy treats young offenders ages 18 to 21 in the same manner as the new Vermont law. Germany and Sweden also treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles than as adults.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While the resolution creating this study committee was directed at young adults ages 18 to 21, the committee believes that the science on the topic merits differentiation in consideration from adults up to age 25. The emerging consensus in the justice system is to treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles, while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults. The specifics of how this differentiation is implemented continues to be a work in progress.

The committee made three recommendations, all of which were adopted by the 2017 convention delegates:

  1. That the Illinois PTA recognizes that youth from the age of 18 to 25 have a different maturity level from that of adults over that age, and that should affect their treatment within the justice system.
  2. That the Illinois PTA will take positions on legislation as it is introduced to address the age cohort, based on a study of their needs and our policies.
  3. That the Illinois PTA amend the Legislation Platform of the Illinois PTA, by adding a new Item 11-e. “Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 through and including age 24.”

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Incoming President’s Speech

At the conclusion of the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, incoming Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker addressed the delegates. Following the speech, many in the audience urged us to share his message with all Illinois PTA members.

I’m willing to bet that almost every person in this room would say that they got involved with PTA because of their child. That’s not terribly surprising. Every parent wants to be a champion for their child.

But PTA has always been about more than that. When Alice McLellan Birney looked around her community and saw children ending their education after fifth grade or eighth grade, saw children working in factories, saw children locked up in adult prisons, she knew that someone needed to speak up for them, because every child deserves a champion.

Our mission as PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality not by holding a fundraiser, but by engaging and empowering our families and our communities to be advocates. That’s not to say that fundraising is not important. A fundraiser can make a big difference in a school, especially with our state continuing to provide inadequate and inequitable funding of our schools year after year, but when we are advocates, when we change policies and laws, we can make a difference for every child in Illinois, and every child deserves a champion.

Now, I sense that there are some of you out there who are a little skeptical about this advocacy thing. Maybe you’re thinking that those big changes that PTA made in the past happened because it’s obvious that children going to work in factories at 11 or being locked up in adult prisons at 13 was clearly wrong and therefore easy to change, but change is never easy. Maybe you think a small handful of PTA folks can’t make a big difference today, that money and lobbyists and special interests push regular people out of the process, so let me tell you about Illinois PTA this past year.

Last fall on November 15th we had Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield, the first day of the fall veto session. We had 12 PTA advocates come to Springfield that day, more than we’ve had there on one day in probably over a decade. We also sent out a call to action for those who couldn’t come to Springfield to contact their legislators. We were advocating for passage of a fully-funded state budget, for a bill banning the sale of energy drinks to minors, and for SB550, a bill to test every unique drinking water source in every school in Illinois, public, private, and parochial, for lead. While we had a handful of face-to-face meetings with legislators, we also spent time stopping by the desks of as many administrative assistants as we could to speak with, told them about our issues, and left our literature with them to pass on to the legislators. The 12 of us managed to visit a little over half of the legislators’ assistants that day.

The next day, our executive director was at a hearing and overheard one legislator say to another, “Boy, the Illinois PTA really showed up yesterday.” Well, 12 of us did, but we seemed like a whole lot more. And a funny thing happened that day: SB550, a bill that had passed the Senate in May but had been stuck in the House Rules committee since then (and if you don’t know, the Rules Committee is where bills go to slowly die) suddenly picked up three new co-sponsors. By the end of the veto session, the bill had picked up over a dozen new co-sponsors, moved out of Rules, gone through committee, and was headed to the floor with a Do Pass recommendation.

Since we knew there was a lame duck session coming up in January, Illinois PTA sent out another call to action just after the first of the year, and SB550 picked up 18 additional co-sponsors during that session and passed into law. While the amended bill limited the testing to Pre-K through fifth-grade schools, without PTA advocates contacting their legislators we would have had no testing at all for a substance that we know has no safe level of exposure.

So 12 people spending a day in Springfield and a few hundred more spending two minutes to answer Illinois PTA’s call to action made a difference in the lives of every child who will be passing through those schools for years to come. What could we accomplish for the children of Illinois with 100 people spending a day in Springfield or 10,000 spending two minutes to answer a call to action?

So here is my challenge today to all of you. Take out your smart phone and open your browser, go to illinoispta.org, click on the Advocacy menu, and then on the Take Action link on the side. Go to the Quick Sign Up part of the page and enter your e-mail address, zip code, and maybe your street address if your zip code has more than one representative in it, and then click that arrow to join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network. Then go back to your PTA and get all of your members to do the same.

And when you get that PTA e-mail with the big button that says Take Action, click it and discover how quick and easy it is to type in your name and contact information and hit send to let your legislators know that you are PTA and you are a champion for every child in Illinois, because every child deserves a champion.

I am humbled and honored that you have chosen me to lead you, and I am looking forward to leading an army of champions for the next two years, champions for the child in the suburbs and for the child in East St. Louis, for the child on the south side of Chicago and for the child among the cornfields around Strasburg, and for every child in Illinois, because every child deserves a champion. Thank you.

Illinois PTA Convention Preview—Resolutions

The 115th Annual Illinois PTA Convention will be held on April 7th and 8th at the Hilton—Naperville. Convention is a great opportunity to attend interesting workshops and network with other PTA leaders, but it is also the time that the Illinois PTA conducts its business. Part of that business is directing the legislative and advocacy activities of the Illinois PTA.

One of the ways that PTAs influence what the Illinois PTA advocates on is through resolutions. Resolutions can come from an individual PTA or from the Illinois PTA Legislative Policies committee. A resolution can call for legislation, direct the Illinois PTA to work with other organizations, provide information to local PTAs, or study a topic further and make recommendations. At this year’s convention, there are three resolutions for the membership to vote on addressing financial literacy, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Resolution on Financial Literacy

The Illinois Learning Standards for math touch briefly on financial literacy, requiring students to understand how pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars work as money and as decimals for elementary students and to be able to calculate the effect of interest on money invested for a certain period of time for high school students. But the standards don’t address how to fill out a check, how credit card interest rates affect the cost of the things you buy, or whether you should buy a car by paying more money up front, taking a loan for three or five years, or leasing.

These issues are of increasing importance for our children as more and more students are graduating from college with more and more student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. The Resolution on Financial Literacy addresses this issue through several actions:

  • That local PTAs and councils work with their school districts to incorporate financial literacy education into their curricula
  • That the Illinois PTA work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to include financial literacy materials that meet the existing Illinois Learning Standards
  • That the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils work for legislation for programs that teach financial literacy.

Most of the concepts of financial literacy are based in math, and one of the most important ways to get students to take an interest in math is to show them how they can use it in real life. Thus, using financial literacy materials to teach math concepts can be accomplished within the existing Illinois Learning Standards. School districts just need to be willing to make the effort. In addition, many financial literacy materials already aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards are available, and programs from organizations like Junior Achievement can also play a role in developing financial literacy.

Resolution on Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that manmade climate change is occurring. Among the effects of climate change that have direct effects on Illinois are an increase in extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, droughts, and floods) and public health issues such as:

  • Increased respiratory ailments including asthma due to increased levels of pollen, mold, air pollution, and dust
  • Increased incidence of certain cancers due to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation
  • Increased foodborne diseases and nutritional deficiencies due to food contamination, shortages of staple foods, and the reduced nutritional value of food caused by rising carbon dioxide levels

The Resolution on Climate Change addresses this issue through a multi-pronged approach. These include:

  • The Illinois PTA providing information to local PTAs and councils regarding climate change and its effect on the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local PTAS, and councils encourage school districts to consider including renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal heating and cooling, wind turbines) and green infrastructure (e.g., energy efficient windows, green roofs, permeable paving) when building or renovating school district facilities
  • The Illinois PTA work with other like-minded organizations on the issue of climate change and its effect on the environment and the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local units, and councils support legislation that regulates activities that contribute to adverse climate change, mitigates the negative effects of climate change, supports and encourages the use of renewable energy, and supports efforts to remediate the negative effects of climate change that have already occurred.

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses the injection of water and undisclosed chemicals into rock layers at high pressure to fracture the rocks, allowing oil and natural gas to be extracted more easily. The contaminated wastewater from this process is then injected back into the ground for disposal.

Research has connected hydraulic fracturing to a significant increase in earthquakes, unsafe levels of air pollution near fracking sites (resulting in asthma attacks, lung disease, dizziness and seizures, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancers, among other health effects), and contamination of groundwater. The latter is of particular concern in Illinois, where 35% of all residents, including 90% of all rural Illinois residents, rely on aquifers for their drinking water.

The Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing addresses this issue through both education and legislation. The resolution calls on the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils to:

  • Share information on the health and safety concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal
  • Work with other like-minded organizations to raise awareness of these concerns
  • Support additional research on current and new methods of oil and gas extraction and their potential environmental effects by independent researchers not affiliated with the energy industry
  • Support state and federal legislation that addresses the environmental and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing.