Arkansas rates poorly in at least two separate financial literacy assessments. But State Treasurer Dennis Milligan is determined to change that.
The state sits in the bottom 10 on recent lists from WalletHub and Champlain College. Such rankings make Milligan bristle. Elected in 2014, Milligan has engineered the best returns on in recent memory on the state’s $3.5 billion investment portfolio. He is an advocate for financial education across the state.
“I have made it my mission to prepare Arkansas students with the tools they need for a successful financial future by providing online financial education,” he recently told the Mena (Arkansas) Rotary Club.
Two years ago, Milligan created the AR Finance Future Program, which provides financial education to Arkansas students at no cost to their schools. The digital program reached more than 9,500 students in 86 schools during its first year and continues to grow. Milligan has also promoted the Arkansas 529 Program for college savings.
In a state with an abysmal track record for student financial literacy, these steps represent a big step forward. Under Milligan, who was a businessman for 30 years before moving into government, the goal is to reach the state’s young people where they tend to hang out—on digital platforms. The interactive AR Finance Future program was developed in partnership with the financial technology company EverFi and offers a range of information about credit, borrowing, investing and money management.
Only 26% of Arkansas parents feel prepared to teach their children about basic financial concepts, according to Milligan’s office. That finding was a big reason Milligan took up the financial literacy mission.
“What is great about this is we are teaching 4th through 6th graders how to be good stewards of money and make wise financial decisions, and they are going home and educating their parents,” he told the Rotary Club.
Two pieces of legislation now moving through the State Legislature reflect Arkansas’ commitment to financial education. One clarifies the responsibilities of the state treasurer as they relate to the Achieving A Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program, which is a tax-advantaged savings account for people with disabilities. The other, the Personal Financial and Job Readiness Act, requires public schools to introduce students to basic concepts of consumer finance, debt and credit management.
As a result, this fall public school students entering the 9th grade will be required to earn one credit in a course that includes financial education in order to graduate high school.