May 24, 2014 11:08:58 PM
Lynn Fitch is not the head of Mississippi's Department of Education.
She just sounds like it these days.
Fitch, whose real title is State Treasurer, is making the rounds across the state to call attention to programs focused on education.
"Education means jobs," Fitch said during a visit to The Dispatch Friday. "Jobs mean revenue. So yes, I would say this is very much related to what we do in our department."
Most notable of the programs Fitch hopes to bring attention to is the re-establisment of a college savings fund, which the state suspended because of fears that the program would be underfunded and, therefore, not viable.
Known as the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (MPACT), the 15-year-old program was suspended last year.
"It is not as though we were not in favor of the program," Fitch said. "It's just that we need to pull back, take a hard look at the program to determine if it was viable. When the program was started, the expectations were much different. What seemed workable then quickly ran into problems when we entered into the recession.
"So we wanted to suspend the program not to end it, but to take a careful look at it and make the necessary adjustments that would achieve what the program was intended to achieve while making sure we fulfilled our fiduciary responsibility."
The rule changes that have emerged include the addition of a contingent purchaser feature, which will allow the contract to be transferred to another person in the event of death. It also extends the annual enrollment period to be extended from four to nine months, streamlines payment plans and options, updates the calculation of administrative costs to comply with industry standards and provides contract extensions for those who defer enrollment because of military service.
Enrollment for the savings plan begins in the fall.
In addition to the resumption of the MPACT program, Fitch said she is particularly excited about the roll-out this fall of the program designed to help improve Mississippi's status as the least financially literate state in the country. The Treasurer's Education About Money (TEAM) initiative is a computer-based educational program that can be implemented on the high school, community college and university levels, either as part of regular curriculum or as an elective study.
TEAM is a public/private partnership between the Treasurer's office and Trustmark Bank, Regions Bank, Community Spirit Bank and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.
"Financial literacy is something that every Mississippian needs," Fitch said. "We're extremely excited about this program because our studies have shown that these programs work."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.