Financial literacy for lawmakers

By Rod Haxton, editor

State Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego), chairman of the House Education Committee, and Jim McNiece (Wichita) a member of the State Board of Education came out recently declaring that what’s missing from Kansas classrooms is a course on financial literacy.

There was a hearing in the House Education Committee that would have required juniors or seniors to pass a financial literacy class in order to earn a high school diploma. While there was no vote on the state mandate yet, Highland and McNiece warned schools that they will be watching them.

There’s nothing wrong with requiring a financial literacy class. It would offer some insight into the issues that will confront them in everyday life, such as understanding credit card debt, mortgage interest, and that spending $5 each week on Lotto tickets isn’t considered a retirement plan.

It’s also good to understand household budgeting and the correlation between income and expenses.

But it’s also a bit ironic that we have Republican lawmakers in Kansas who would like to mandate this class. That’s kind of like Russian President Vladimir Putin telling everyone else they need to take “sensitivity training” - meaning, of course, everyone but himself.

How about this idea? Let’s stipulate that before anyone is allowed to serve in Kansas government they first be required to pass a financial literacy course?

Lawmakers want high school students to know how to balance a checkbook while they throw the state into a $420 million budget hole. These fiscal wizards are forcing schools to close early, are putting the skids on state highway construction projects and have cut funds to programs that aid poor children. Gov. Brownback, his crack team of budget experts and GOP conservatives have eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, offered nothing to replace it with and then seem perplexed that the state is hemorrhaging red ink.

Since they can’t seem to wrap their minds around fiscal reality, we’re offering our own financial literacy test for Kansas lawmakers:

1) How many Kansas residents on the welfare rolls would have to be denied a Caribbean cruise in order to save the state $50 million?

2) If you eliminate $803 million in state revenue in a single year (according to the Legislative Research Department) how many packs of cigarettes must you sell in order to raise enough taxes to balance the budget?

3) How low would you have to lower the legal age to purchase tobacco products in order to create enough consumers to pay enough taxes to balance the budget? (Hint: pre-school is not an age. Be more specific).

4) How many days can each district reduce their school year in order to offset state funding cuts without having an impact on the quality of education provided to our students?

5) If Kansas were to no longer require an education beyond the sixth grade, what percentage of these sixth grade graduates would still be overqualified to be a Tea Party Republican?

6) How many jobs are created when you take money from the state highway fund to compensate for tax cuts for Kansas corporations?

7) When you refuse to expand the Medicaid program in Kansas because these patients can always go to the hospital emergency room, is this considered “free” medical care?


8) What’s the financial return to a Koch brother for each Republican legislator that he owns?

We were fortunate to have a father who made sure that our failures weren’t near as bad as they could have been and was still there to support us when we refused to recognize our ignorance and insisted on doing things our own way again and again.

Eventually, some of us learn. Eventually, some of us get it right.

Most importantly was when we experienced the epiphany in our lives that, yes, we weren’t as smart as we thought we were and, yes, our dad was pretty damn smart.

Once we realized our own shortcomings and that we didn’t know all there was to know, life got better. We still made mistakes, but we were more accepting of those lessons and the realization that we were responsible for what happened in our life.

We still make mistakes and we’re still learning. The first will never quit happening; hopefully, neither will the latter.

That’s life, and for most graduates it begins the moment they step off the stage with their high school diploma or their college degree.

That’s when your real education begins. Make the most of it. Never stop learning.

And remember, you don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know it.

If you don’t know what that means, you soon will.

Rod Haxton can be reached at

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