Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Independent, Fee-Only Financial Advisor

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Education Puzzle

Mississippi has gone from next to last to LAST! Simply put, we can't get any worse.

Our education system is a mess. 90% of our students attend public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Across the state, the variation in quality is huge.

My daughter attended public school for all her pre-college years in Clinton, a top-rated program. She received an excellent education and was well-prepared for college classes. But Clinton is a town with above-average median household incomes and a supportive group of citizens.

Travel across the Jackson area and you'll find more of the same. In the towns of  Brandon and Madison, incomes and property values are higher than average. Support for the public systems is strong. Both have excellent schools, as well.

Head out into the county of Madison, and you'll find a different story. Drive a few miles down the road from Clinton to Raymond, and you'll see the variation. Take a drive into the Delta, and you'll find systems that aren't making the grade.

I understand that just throwing money at a school system is not the answer. More money does not, necessarily, mean better performing students. But I also know that our current funding system misses the point.

Schools in parts of our state with low-performing students that come from difficult family backgrounds need MORE time, attention, and, yes, money than those in nice, suburban Clinton or Brandon. But the structure of school funding in the state means that those with more just get even more, while those with less make do.

The issue of education funding continues to be clouded by our history. Desegregation led to a dual system of public and private schools in many places. In those systems where white families and white students remained, public schools succeeded. In areas where white flight led to largely African American students, public schools tended to falter. Those schools got the short shrift.

The change that came about due to Brown versus Board of Education has not been reversed here. In fact, it has become worse with black flight from blighted school systems. More and more African American families of means are moving to districts with good public schools. Who could blame anyone, black or white, from trying to provide their children with a good education?

But we're still left with a bunch of schools that are simply not cutting it. The students who need the most help are the ones stuck in poor-performing districts, and the result is a large number of our citizens without the education to help themselves or the economy of this state. What is there to do?

First, we must recognize the problems and their roots. Poor-performing districts should be handled aggressively by the State Board of Education. They should receive additional funding to address their added problems. While I'm not a fan of charter schools, some models may work better for these areas. We should consider using technology to deliver better instruction to these areas than can be efficiently delivered in the traditional setting. I wouldn't even oppose a type of boarding school for some students who lack support at home.

I think it's time for us to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Our poor educational system is leaving us on the bottom economically. It is resulting in two Mississippis-- one with hope and opportunity and one that is stuck and hopeless. When faced with this condition, what have we to got to lose? We can't get any worse. We're LAST!

Monday, January 06, 2014

Giving Us All A Bad Name!

I love a good story. And I love to see that story come to life on the big screen. But this time, I'm passing!

The Wolf of Wall Street has all the elements of a good, juicy story-- sex, lies, greed, and a major scam. It's the true story of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street broker, who stole millions from his customers. Ryder read the book and declared Belfort to be "the worst person in the world." That was enough for me!

Never mind that Belfort left his customers holding the bag. He spent 22 months in prison, then bounced back by writing the book and selling the movie rights for a blockbuster directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Leonardo di Caprio. As part of his court settlement, he is required to make restitution to his former clients.

Belfort, true to form, is fudging on this agreement and finding a way to keep his ill-gotten gains. He is now on the speaker circuit and has another book coming out. What a colossal a**! Instead of profiting off his misdeeds, he should be put in stocks in the town square and left in the cold. His kind makes everyone in my business look bad-- and I don't appreciate it!

On December 26, 2013, a letter appeared in The LA Times which was written by the daughter of one of Belfort's cohorts in crime. In it, she reminds us of the excesses of Wall Street and the very real damage that gets left in the wake of such greed. Her advice? Don't put another dime in Belfort's pocket by reading his book, going to this movie, or hiring him as a speaker. He and his ilk are scum and should never be rewarded for bad behavior.

Suffice it to say, I'm not going to this movie.

I had the chance to hear John Bogle speak at a conference this year. Bogle is the founder of The Vanguard Group and has spent his professional life beating the drum for lower fees for investors. He was his usual, admonishing those in our business who produce nothing yet extract abnormal profits from their customers. Bogle is highly successful, but he got there by putting his clients first. This is the model I follow.

At New Perspectives, we may never have Belfort's wealth, but we will always keep our integrity. The trust placed in us by our clients is sacred, and we place our clients' interests above our own. So, don't put us in the same category as Jordan Belfort, or Bernie Madoff, or the dozens of other "financial professionals" who find themselves in the headlines. We plan to keep our heads down, do our jobs, take care of our clients, and stay out of the news!