For some, literacy bill was a long journey for naught
Did disagreement over news conference lead to last-minute withdrawal?
ANNAPOLIS Hours before a scheduled Senate hearing Wednesday on legislation to require financial literacy as a high school graduation requirement, the chief sponsor abruptly withdrew the bill, leaving advocates some of whom had traveled long distances to testify perplexed.
The surprising move came as supporters held a news conference at the Louis L. Goldstein Treasury Building to tout the legislation. Some attendees were unaware until they arrived that Sen. C. Anthony Muse had pulled the bill.
Muse's motivation is a source of contention.
He claimed the bill as written did not have enough votes to make it through either the House or Senate committees in which it would be heard, so there was no point in moving forward.
Other lawmakers and advocates said Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington scrapped the bill over a disagreement on where to conduct Wednesday's news conference and whether to unveil findings of a financial literacy task force as part of the event.
"I am always disheartened when politics gets in the way," said Merry Eisner, vice president of legislation for Maryland PTA, which supports the graduation requirement. "However, as an advocate, I recognize that politics are always going to be there, and that's the way it is."
Muse and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot's office initially had scheduled a joint news conference Feb. 10 on Lawyers Mall to release the task force report and promote the bill, which was to be heard that day. But committee hearings were canceled due to snow and rescheduled for Wednesday.
Then, the two sides couldn't agree on where to hold the press event.
Franchot aides wanted it in the Treasury building, where media would already be assembling for a Board of Public Works meeting.
Muse, who co-chaired the Task Force to Study How to Improve Financial Literacy in the State, preferred a location in the House Office Building and initially scheduled a dueling event before canceling it and withdrawing the bill early Wednesday, disheartening supporters.
"The bill means too much to me," said Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Dist. 8) of Perry Hall, who reintroduced the legislation Thursday and plans to move it quickly out of the Senate Rules Committee, which she chairs.
Identical House bills, sponsored by Dels. Jill P. Carter (D-Dist. 41) of Baltimore and Jay Walker (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, are scheduled to be heard in the Ways & Means Committee next week.
"The issue remains as important today as it was three days ago," said Joseph H. Shapiro, a spokesman for Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who has been a leading advocate of enhanced financial literacy for students.
Complicating matters was the fact that the task force did not adopt a recommendation on whether to make financial literacy a graduation requirement. A subcommittee was split on the issue and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick opposed adding another requirement, instead suggesting that the State Board of Education develop age-based content standards that local school systems would incorporate into existing curricula.
"I didn't want anybody to misconstrue that my bill had been adopted by the task force," Muse said.
The task force's failure to make a recommendation was a "fatal flaw," said Del. Susan W. Krebs (R-Dist. 9B) of Eldersburg. Carroll County, which she represents, along with school systems in Allegany and Talbot counties, already have personal finance graduation requirements.
Even if the bill gets back on track in the Senate, it could face tough sledding, said Del. Dana M. Stein (D-Dist. 11) of Pikesville, the financial literacy task force's other co-chairman.
That's because it would cost local school systems $17.4 million to implement the mandatory curriculum, and the state teachers union opposes the bill because it would create a greater workload. The legislature also typically defers to the state school board on education policy, he said.
Meanwhile, Stein noted that several other task force recommendations are moving forward.
The dust-up over the press conferences and Muse's decision to withdraw his bill at the 11th hour "will just be a blip in the push for enhanced financial literacy," Stein said.