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Market Savvy Weekend

Taking Stock of Schools, Group Urges Personal Finance Instruction

Education: A nonprofit coalition says students know little about the basics of investing, taxes and credit.

May 26, 2000|JEANETTE MARANTOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine a school day in which children learn how to balance a checkbook, or discover how compounding interest can hurt them on a credit card--and help them save for retirement.

It isn't part of many regular K-12 courses now, but the nonprofit California JumpStart Coalition is working to change that by becoming a clearinghouse for personal finance curricula and lobbying schools throughout the state to start teaching financial literacy.

The need is dire, said coalition President Stanley Breitbard. "We know that from national tests we've done with high school seniors. We're testing for very, very fundamental knowledge about various areas of personal finance--saving, investing, taxes, income, credit--and the kids fail in all areas."

For instance, 54% of the 750 seniors who were tested incorrectly believed that earnings from savings account interest may not be taxed. And 73% believed that money put away for a baby's future education would probably have higher earnings in a savings account or U.S. Savings Bond than in stocks, which historically produce the highest returns.

"In our dream scenario, we would have a program for students at all levels, from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade," said Breitbard, a certified public accountant and personal financial specialist in Century City.

The program's California Web site, http://www.cajumpstart.org, lists a variety of resources for schools, teachers, students and parents. Here's a sampling:

* InvestSmart, a Web site developed by Palos Verdes High School senior David Leung, teaches students and teachers about the basics of investing (http://library.thinkquest.org/10326/investment_lessons).

* Financial lessons based on common classroom literature for grades 3 to 5, such as "Stone Fox," "Kermit the Hermit," and "The Leaves in October." The detailed lesson plans are available for free on the Web site of Money Management International, a nationwide, nonprofit credit counseling agency (http://www.mmintl.org).

* "The Real Deal," a full-color, 12-page activity book of games, puzzles, and comics designed to make preteens smarter shoppers, as part of a national education program by the Federal Trade Commission and National Assn. of Attorneys General. For free copies of the book call (877) FTC-HELP ([877] 382-4357).

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