Michael Wickline reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on a four-year $450,000 contract state Treasurer Dennis Milligan has entered to provide an on-line financial education program to students in grades 4-6.
The state treasurer is getting into Education Department’s business?
The state’s K-12 education framework includes a high school economics course, The K-6 framework includes an economic strand in the social works curriculum at every grade. Efforts to more specifically require financial literacy instruction have faltered in the legislature in recent years, it’s true, but Economics Arkansas offers a broad array of financial literacy support including lesson plans at every grade level.
Has Milligan studied available offerings and found them lacking? Or was he sold on a pitch by a friendly vendor wanting to make some money while providing Milligan with a headline?
Is the treasurer authorized to get into education?
The Constitution establishes the office of treasurer and says it shall perform duties “as shall be prescribed by law.” Those duties are primarily covered in 25-16-604, though the office is mentioned in a variety of other statutes related to financial transactions. It says:
It shall be the duty of the Treasurer of State:
(1) To receive and keep all the moneys of the state not expressly required by law to be kept by some other person;
(2) To disburse the public moneys upon warrants drawn upon the State Treasury according to law and not otherwise;
(3) To keep a just, true, and comprehensive account of all moneys received and disbursed by him or her in books to be kept for that purpose, in which he or she shall state from whom moneys have been received and on what account and to whom and on what account disbursed;
(4) To keep a just and true account of each head of appropriation made by law and the disbursements under them;
(5) To render his or her accounts to the Auditor of State for settlement quarterly;
(6) To report to the Governor on or before October 10 next preceding the meeting of the General Assembly for each session, a statement of the condition of the State Treasury and its operations for the preceding year. The report shall be made to the Governor; and
(7) To perform all other duties which may be required of him or her by law.
I don’t see in this particular statute authorization to spend money to educate school students. Could Milligan also underwrite driver’s ed? Or pay for some new warmups for his hometown high school football team?
PS: The treasurer’s office promises soon a memo that shows attorney general clearance for entering the contract and an explanation on why an existing contract with a vendor for the 529 college savings plan management, which includes free use of EverFi materials, wasn’t sufficient to cover this project.
UPDATE: The treasurer’s office sent an attorney general’s opinion that says the treasurer’s office isn’t covered by procurement rules. That doesn’t answer my question on statutory authorization for expenditures on education programs; it only addresses whether bidding was required. Grant Wallace, Milligan’s spokesman, also said “the Treasurer ran and was elected on a promise to increase the financial literacy of the state, and this initiative is following through on that campaign promise to the people of Arkansas.”
As for the pre-existing contract with 529 Plan manager Ascenus to use its access to EverFi materials free of charge, Wallace said:
The agreement between EverFi and Ascensus is for a 10 minute module focused on 529 college savings plan education for prospective parents not students. We can link to the website (learn529.com) from our site at no charge, but it is the generic module and not Arkansas specific. It is a completely different module than what we are doing in the schools. So to answer your question, yes we have access to a piece of the portfolio EverFi offers through our relationship with Ascensus, but it is not the curriculum we have partnered with EverFi to put in 4-6 grades across the state.
Wallace also mentioned that EverFi is already available in 15 counties and 49 schools through relationships with banks.
I still have some questions about authority for the treasurer to spend a half-million on education, an activity not spelled out in the main statute for the office..