Education groups look to help students with budgeting

Jake Jarvis | Gazette-Mail
Amelia Courts, president and CEO of the Education Alliance, unveils a new website at a Thursday morning news conference. The website, MakeCentsWV.org, hopes to teach students about financial literacy.

Ikie Brooks had to quickly learn how to balance a budget.

During his first night at Marshall University, he walked down the road to go to the Sheetz. He learned that, yes, he could spend $24 without much thought. It was back at his dorm room that he realized that $24 might have been better tucked in a savings account or spent on a textbook for one of his classes at Marshall University.

“When you think about money, it gives you a little pit in your stomach when you don’t have any,” said Brooks, now a 21-year-old junior at Marshall. “When you think about having to go into class to tell a professor you didn’t have any printer paper — these are the things we take for granted.”

A new financial literacy initiative from the Education Alliance won’t be able to keep Brooks from late-night runs to Sheetz, but it might convince students like him to pay closer attention to their budgets.

The alliance launched the Make Cents WV initiative in a Thursday morning news conference, topping off more than a year of work to bring together a host of state agencies including the State Auditor’s Office, the West Virginia Bankers Association, the state Department of Education and the state Treasurer’s office.

The initiative is funded by federal money directed to West Virginia GEAR UP. It hopes to accomplish three things: implement financial literacy lesson plans in 100 classrooms across the state, increase participating students’ knowledge of finances by 50 percent and to help the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission ensure that 60 percent of all high school seniors complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“To tell the truth, we had not had an emphasis on financial literacy prior to this,” said Amelia Courts, president and CEO of the Education Alliance, an organization which works to help business understand the importance of supporting public schools. “But then we started looking at the data — the number of kids in poverty and the number of kids not filling out the FAFSA.”

The HEPC has known for a while that students need to have stronger financial literacy skills. The state agency approached the Education Alliance about a year and a half ago to discuss developing some sort of program to reach out to schools across the country.

When Courts and her organization began developing the initiative, they quickly learned that there were already some existing financial literacy resources out there. They were scattered, though, and not easily accessible in one place.

A new website, MakeCentsWV.org, tries to compile all of the new and existing resources into one place. Courts likens it to a “financial literacy toolbox.” The website has information for family members and students, as well as education and links to lesson plans developed by West Virginian teachers that integrate financial literacy with every grade level.

Paul Hill, HEPC Chancellor, said it might be hard to convince students and their families to log onto the website, but by integrating the information across different social studies and mathematics classes, students should learn from an early age the importance of finances.

“It’s to also give students access to different career tracks and what they can anticipate what the current market is for that job,” Hill said. “That’s part of the educational process — not only the banking and financial piece, but what you can anticipate if you borrow money for school.”

The lesson plans were submitted by teachers across the state and then were vetted by a board of teachers prior to their inclusion in the website to ensure they are accurate, helpful and aligned with curriculum standards, according to Emily Pratt, a spokeswoman for the alliance.

“Yes, college is more expensive than when I went to college,” Courts said. “West Virginia is in such a tough spot right now financially. We see many people that are laid off, and their families may have helped them save for college, but they don’t have those same financial resources.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at 304-348-7939, jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, Facebook.com/newsroomjake or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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