Financial literacy task force submits action plan

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BRATTLEBORO >> The task force that developed recommendations for improving financial literacy in the state also had an eye on economic development.

"Our whole goal is to have people build financial assets, using that as a significant piece of economic development in the state," said task force chairman and Windham Foundation president Bob Allen. "If people build assets, they're better able to handle their finances and have better purchasing power."

Recommendations for assisting adults in this arena included increasing opportunities and incentives for low-income Vermonters to save and build assets as well as increasing the percentage of Vermont employees who are saving for retirement.

According to a press release, Champlain College's Director of the Center for Financial Literacy John Pelletier gathered 20 distinguished Vermonters to address financial literacy. A report was submitted on Dec. 18 with a focus on strengthening the financial futures of Vermonters. It can be found at financialfunkvt.org.

Allen said the biggest challenge was coming up with a reasonable number of recommendations to include in the task force's action plan. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade, college students and adults were addressed by three different committees. The plan had to address not only ages but all socioeconomic groups.

Allen also served as chairman of the adult committee, which came up with three recommendations. The other two groups came up with five each.

"I think there are 13 solid recommendations and one overriding recommendation. Because we didn't want this process to die on someone's desk, we're recommending the Governor or State Treasurer form a financial literacy commission," said Allen. "It's a huge problem, not only in Vermont. It's a national problem. Kids are graduating high school and college with very little financial education and knowledge."

The commission would be charged with not only implementing parts of the plan but keeping the topic alive, he added. The task force hopes a commission will be formed through executive order or by Legislature. Although the committee's work is done, Allen was hopeful some members would be asked to join the commission.

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Allen said the task force did not want significant funding attached to its recommendations, seeing how the state and nation are trying to keep budgets in line. Members came up with innovative ways to use existing resources. Recommendations from the k-12 committee included creating an online clearinghouse of vetted and trusted financial literacy resources for educators.

The adult committee recommended that adults be provided with a wide variety of personal finance learning opportunities and encouraged the use of public libraries for educating people on finances. Allen said the Manchester Community Library was excited about having an opportunity to add to its programming. The expense is minor as content on the subject already exists and Allen suggested faculty members from area schools could teach that content to keep expenses down.

Similar recommendations involved providing financial information in k-12 schools in math classes and having financial proficiency courses available in colleges. The college committee suggested a financial literary resource and training center be created for all in colleges in the state to use.

"I would think it would be in the interest of the state and higher education institutes to look at financial literacy as a core tool students need to have before leaving high school or college," Allen said. "Adults almost by definition are a bigger challenge. They're further along in life."

Allen noted the importance of accumulating assets that can be used later in life. And if people have not begun to do so, it becomes a bigger challenge later in life.

Allen said most of the task force's recommendations could be acted upon immediately.

"If we could get half of them off the ground in the next 12 months, that would be a great accomplishment," Allen said.

Contact Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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