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Operations

By working with senior-level experts and engaging in wide public discussion over time, clear operating and organizing principles emerged. First, it became clear that – in a state of 12.4 million people – there would be no way for POPE to be successful if it concerned itself with the retail delivery of financial education classes. As one public meeting participant said, “It would be like trying to boil the ocean with a candle." It was determined that the office would be most effective if it focused on developing the systems and tools needed to increase the number, quality, and ability of other trustworthy entities to reach citizens. Second, with gradual growth, POPE would eventually develop expertise and resources to build sustainable capacity in schools, businesses, and community-based organizations to provide financial education across the state.

In February 2005, a second staff person was added to the office. This person's first task was to establish, maintain, and market the recommended financial education clearinghouse. Again, armed with information gleaned from public meetings and deliberation of TFWF, it was determined that the clearinghouse would be most useful if it were created and maintained online. (It is important to note that there was much consideration given to the accessibility of Internet tools for low-income/low-wealth households, senior citizens, and others; however, these concerns were ultimately outweighed by the cost, updating, and distribution barriers presented by a printed document.)

POFE's online clearinghouse and Web site, Your Money's Best Friend ( moneysbestffiend.com), was launched in April 2006. More than 100,000 unique users visited the site in its first year of operation. The clearinghouse was designed to

• Link Pennsylvanians to financial education resources within their own communities.

• Make it easy for school, community, and workplace financial educators to find low-cost, appropriate tools.

• Provide jargon-free, unbiased information and additional resources for citizens.

The first requirement was met through the development of a ZIP code-searchable database of financial education providers. After an initial screening by POFE and submission of a signed, legally binding posting agreement that affirms the financial education they provide puts the interest of Pennsylvanians above their own commercial interests, an organization is provided with a password allowing it to enter its own organizational data, update events, and more. Within its first year, more than 170 providers were active in the database. The ZIP code-searchable database not only benefited citizens who were looking for help, it also assisted financial education providers in marketing their programs and attracting participants.

The second requirement is still under development as of 2008 but will be met when a "resources for educators” section of the Web site goes live. The section will provide links to curricula, teaching tips, best practices, research, case studies, talking points, and networking.

The third requirement is met through nearly three hundred pages of content and more than a thousand resource-specific links. The site offers something for everyone, from talking with loved ones about money to figuring out the differences between 401(k)s and IRAs. Navigation is organized by topic and life stage, and content is cross-linked. Importantly, it is noncommercial and written in clear, jargon-free language. Additional links are prioritized on each page to offer other Pennsylvania government resources first, federal or other state government resources second, nonprofit resources third, and commercial resources last (if included at all).

Also in 2008, POFE had five staff. Director Hilary Hunt remained, joined by a staff focused on school-based financial education, workplace-based financial education, and community-based financial education.

School-Based Financial Education

Some state governments have required that students take and pass personal finance classes in order to graduate from high school. This is not an option in Pennsylvania, where each of its 501 school districts sets its own graduation requirements. Given today's educational climate of "teaching to the test,” it is difficult to convince administrators to add “electives" to courses.

One answer to getting more personal finance content into K 12 schools, then, is to teach teachers how to embed personal finance concepts into the reading, writing, and mathematics they're already teaching. For example, if a first-grade teacher is teaching reading and comprehension, he can use the book The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Money. If a junior high math teacher is teaching how to calculate percentages, she can use real-life examples such as a household budget or a credit card or bank statement. With this approach, children take part in age-appropriate financial education throughout their schooling – making it more likely that the concepts will seat themselves in the child's basic knowledge. This approach is also attractive to administrators who don't have to buy new textbooks, hire teachers with different skills, and make time in already overcrowded academic schedules.

But one cannot assume that teachers necessarily have the financial education they need to manage their own finances, much less teach students. A journalism teacher, for example, may have chosen his profession precisely because he doesn't like numbers and finances! Thus, POPE has developed various levels of teacher training.

Working through its unique partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (in fact, the school-based financial education professional has an office at both the Banking and the Education Departments), annually they jointly convene the Governor's Institute for Financial Education. Each year, this free, week-long, residential summer program hosts 100 teachers at a college or university. During the day, school district teams of teachers from various grade levels and content areas work together to evaluate their school system's personal finance offerings, develop lesson plans, and more. In the evening, participants work with certified financial planners, credit counselors, and others to more fully understand their own financial situation. Since its creation, several hundred education professionals have been trained.

For school districts that may not be ready to participate in a Governor's Institute or may have participated and are ready to expand their work, POFE provides customized, no-cost presentations and in-service programming and personalized curricula consultation. Through 2007, more than twelve hundred teachers had participated in at least one presentation or in-service session.

Workplace-Based Financial Education

Studies show that a financially stressed employee can cost an employer $1,200 per year in lost productivity and absenteeism. Further, there is a clear “teachable moment” when an employee contacts his or her employer regarding, for example, an advance on wages or to discuss a garnishment issue. Yet, at the beginning of the TFWF, there was an assumption that employers would be resistant to providing financial education to their employees.

Conversations with business leaders on this issue proved that assumption to be absolutely false. Without exception, employers thought it was a great idea and wanted to provide this benefit to their employees. Not only did they think financial education would help their employees personally, they expressed a hunch that – armed with this knowledge – their employees may well be equipped to make better business decisions as well. What employers said, however, is that they did not know how to provide it. And small employers said that they were focused on running their businesses and did not have time to figure it out.

Thus, the first order of business for the workplace-based financial education specialist of POPE was to discern and document at least one approach to employer- provided financial education. The best way to do this was to start with the second-largest employer in Pennsylvania – which happened to be the commonwealth's state government. This was an attractive test because of the complexity involved in delivering employee benefits and training in a highly bureaucratic system. The development process included labor relations, communications, employee leave, liability, content, and commercial issues, among others.

In 2006, POPE worked with four Harrisburg-based state agencies to offer a twenty-nine-session financial education pilot program. Four hundred commonwealth employees attended, and time-delayed follow-up research showed that 82 percent of the participants turned classroom knowledge into action and were taking positive steps to improve their finances.

Current work proceeds in two directions: first, working to permanently embed financial education into Pennsylvania's human resource and professional development options for its own staff; and second, taking what was learned from the pilot and helping other of the state's leading employers experiment with and integrate financial education into their own business models through a series of regional events and forums beginning in fall 2007.

Community-Based Financial Education

In addition to conceiving, developing, writing, and maintaining the online clearinghouse and Web site, the community-based financial education professional seeks to increase the quality and connectedness of existing financial education programs throughout the state.

In 2006, POFE partnered with the Penn State Cooperative Extension in support of a three-year pilot program funded by the Heinz Endowments. The program identified three rural areas of the state in which to develop, document, and evaluate library-based financial education for families. Parents and children visited the library together, ate a meal, and read a children's book that incorporated a personal finance concept. Parents and children then separated into different sessions, one hosted by a cooperative extension educator and the other hosted by a local librarian. Parents learned adult-oriented content on the topic covered by the book as well as tips and tools to teach and practice money smarts with their children at home. Children engaged in games, crafts, and other learning activities to reinforce the concept they had just learned. Evaluation is ongoing with results expected in 2008.

Also in 2006, the office partnered with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association to develop and deliver training to the state's print journalists. The goal of the program was to increase the quantity, quality, and accuracy of personal finance-related stories read by Pennsylvania's citizens. It was also an opportunity to get newspaper publishers thinking a little differently. A key component of the training, for example, was to help journalists look for financial aspects and local information sources of a story where that might not otherwise be obvious. If the paper publishes a June wedding insert, for example, in addition to the usual feature stories, journalists were encouraged to contact their local nonprofit credit counseling organization to consider writing an article with information about talking with your partner about his or her credit score, where to go to get a free credit report, how to correct errors, and how to build and protect a good credit history.

POFE has also served on advisory or steering committees for emerging and active networks of financial education providers in the state and has worked with “Don't Borrow Trouble” and other social marketing campaigns to promote the dissemination of sound financial information to citizens.

Finally, in June 2007, to emphasize community-based financial education, POFE hosted its first “Common Wealth Symposium" to identify a statewide community of organizations that offer financial education, share information on strategies in delivering financial education, and identify common challenges.

 
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