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U of M, First Tennessee, and State of Tennessee Jointly Launch Statewide K-12 Financial Literacy Education Program
For release: Sept. 26, 2006
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Many Tennesseans' first exposure to "financial literacy education" comes from the school of hard knocks – a bounced check, massive credit card debt, even phone calls from debt collectors. A unique partnership among the University of Memphis, First Tennessee, and the State of Tennessee seeks to change that through a new initiative called Smart Tennessee.

Smart Tennessee is a first-of-its-kind effort designed to infuse financial literacy education across the state at various levels of K-12 instruction. Utilizing the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum developed by the National Council on Economic Education, children in Tennessee 's public schools will receive specific financial literacy instruction in grades 1, 4, 7, and 12. The recurring theme in this activities-based program is the importance of managing money – saving, spending, and borrowing. A parents' guide is included so parents can learn simultaneously with their children. The curriculum is directly tied to state and national education standards in math, reading, and social studies.

Sponsored by First Tennessee, with additional first-year support from the State, Smart Tennessee will begin as a pilot program this year in grades 1 and 4 in elementary schools in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, with plans underway to train teacher education candidates in Chattanooga. The pilot program will be expanded to reach middle and high school students in years two and three, and it will gradually be expanded into other urban and rural communities.

At full capacity, Smart Tennessee will be able to serve 186 schools annually, including 108 elementary, 44 middle, and 34 high schools. The goal is to blanket the state in 10 years. Pilot school sites are being selected with help from local program partners and school systems.

The Smart Tennessee initiative was spearheaded by Dr. Julie Heath, chair of the Economics Department and director of the Center for Economic Education at the University of Memphis. "We know that previous models of financial literacy instruction, which focus on the 12 th grade, are just too little, too late," said Heath. "Our children are best served if we begin financial literacy instruction in the early grades and reinforce these themes throughout the elementary and secondary school years. This comprehensive model is the best way to teach our children how to make good decisions and provide them with the necessary skills so that they will be able to participate fully in our economy."

Dr. Heath will serve as director of Smart Tennessee, which will also involve the Center for Economic Education at Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee Extension in Knoxville, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"Educating our young people about finances is important to the future success of our communities, and that's why we've chosen to sponsor Smart Tennessee," said Charles Burkett, president of First Tennessee. "Residents who are financially savvy make better employees and customers for businesses across Tennessee, and they're better contributors to the community in general. We want every student to have the opportunity to succeed financially."

Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis and a recognized authority on early childhood education, pointed out the advantages that will be wrought by the program. "Just as the ability to read and write is fundamental to a person's success throughout life, so, too, is knowledge of how to manage money. We typically assume that reading and writing will be taught in school, and that money management will just be learned…somehow. Unfortunately, the latter is not the case for many people, and their failure to learn how to manage their finances haunts them all through their lives. Smart Tennessee promises to change that scenario and improve the financial health of individuals and, ultimately, of the entire state."

The initiative was made possible by legislative action and partial funding by the Tennessee legislature. House Bill No. 3753 was sponsored by Rep. Doug Overbey, and companion Senate Bill No. 3741 was sponsored by Sen. Diane Black.

Overbey explained how the program came to be. "The idea for this program actually came from a private citizen," he said, "a Blount County businessman who believed that Tennessee was not teaching its school children enough about personal finance and how to manage money. It is gratifying how people all across the state see the need for this type of education for our young people, and how educators, the private sector, and state government have joined together to meet the need.

"Personal finance is part of all stages of our life and work, and this program, with its very practical approach, will help students achieve a more secure financial footing."

Sen. Black added, "I'm very excited about this program and what it can mean for Tennessee and Tennesseans. Our state has a very high rate of personal bankruptcies, and if we can help our young people understand how to handle their personal finances, I believe it will help remedy that situation. The wonderful thing about this program is that it begins in the early years of students' education, so that with an early start, good financial habits can become a way of life for them.

"Too often people face financial issues with little or no understanding or experience in those areas. With this program, we are taking charge of helping our students learn how to help themselves throughout their lives."

For more information about Smart Tennessee, contact Dr. Julie Heath at the University of Memphis, 901-678-5927, or Charles Burkett at First Tennessee, 901-523-4199.

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