Legislators debate requiring financial literacy course

The fight over required courses for high school students wasn’t just about English and social studies on Monday.

Legislators on the House Education Committee discussed a bill that would require a personal financial literacy course for high school students.

Jack Sossoman, former Shawnee County leader of Americans For Prosperity; state Treasurer Ron Estes; and Walt Chappell, president of Education Management Consultants, answered several questions from the committee members after endorsing the legislation.

“How these kids can go out and survive without those basic math principles and understanding how the world works? We’re sending them out as sheep to the wolves,” Chappell said. “We’re sending them out for every scammer to take advantage of them and to get into hot water very quickly.”

Several of the representatives used some of their personal stories of financial literacy with their own children.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway, said this class wouldn’t have fit into the class schedule for her son, who was taking college prep courses and a music elective.

After nearly an hour of questions for Chappell, Carol Werhan, of Pittsburg State University, provided testimony about the bill.

“Our philosophy is that personal finance must be taught contextually in order to change behavior,” Werhan said.

Werhan said family and consumer sciences teachers are the best people to teach these things. Some of the problems are getting the FACS teachers into the needed areas of the state.

Tom Krebs, a government relations specialist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, testified in opposition to the legislation.

Krebs talked about how local communities and school boards can determine what is necessary. He said it would be a mistake to make it an institutionalized process for every student because some would miss out on an art or music class in order to take financial literacy.

Mark Desetti, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas National Education Association, also testified against the bill.

“Requiring this course for a lot of kids that don’t need it is not the way to go,” Desetti said. “What we need to do is work on the standards we have and deeply assess them and make sure they are happening.”

Some high schools students were at the Capitol on Monday for K-ACTE 2014 Legislative Day for presentations on career and technical education. A few of them were open to the bill.

“I think it’s a great idea because a lot of people don’t know what to do when they get out into the real world,” Manhattan High School student Payton Gehrt said. “ If people would know how to take care of their personal finances at an young age, I think that would help them later in life.”

This story was originally published by The Topeka Capital-Journal on February 10, 2014. 


Fluoride opponents have their day at Statehouse

Lawmakers from the House Health and Human Services Committee heard lengthy testimony from opposing sides Wednesday about fluoride and its effect on water in Kansas.

Language in House Bill 2372 states that more research would need to be made on the exact effects of fluoride, but there is a possibility for harm to the brain and other important organs in the human body. It would require municipalities that fluoridate drinking water to include a statement to that effect on water bills.

Michael Connett, a lawyer, led bill proponents by discussing concerns with fluoride in water.

“As an initial point, infants do not need to receive fluoride,” he said.

Yolanda Whyte, testified about pregnancies and the effect of fluoride on children, a theme that Connett picked up on.

“They started doing studies and low and behold the children getting more fluoride have lower IQs,” Connett said.

The two cited a study done by Anna Choi, of Harvard University, that said fluoride in the water in China and Iran affected IQ. No such outcomes have been observed in the United States, which Connett said was due to lack of study.

“The problem with that approach is the absence of evidence does not equal the evidence of safety,” Connett said.

Some committee members questioned whether proponents had made a strong enough case for the bill, especially considering the lack of conclusive studies done in the United States.

“I hope you understand our concern about creating a bill or creating a requirement based off inconclusive science,” said Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, before adding, “but we’ve also made laws based off of inconclusive science.”

Rep. Leslie Osterman, R-Wichita, asked how many other states are looking at an anti-fluoride bill.

Connett said that Kansas would be the first state to pass this kind of legislation.

After hearing from the proponents for the bill, a long list of opponents testified.

One of them was John Neuberger, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at The University of Kansas School of Medicine. He represented the Kansas Public Health Association, which promotes and improves the population health in Kansas.

He said many parts of the Harvard study weren’t conclusive. He said Choi’s results were preliminary in nature and shouldn’t be used for setting drinking water policy in the United States.

Greg Hill testified on behalf of the Kansas Dental Association that every dollar invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental costs.

There also was opposition testimony from the Kansas Action for Children, Oral Health of Kansas and citations from the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Dental Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The committee took no action on the bill.

This article was originally printed in The Topeka Capital-Journal on February 19, 2014.