A small news item last week on the launch of a financial literacy course in the Shelby County school district in Tennessee this fall got me thinking about a golden opportunity for individual mutual fund companies or, perhaps, the industry as a whole.

What if fund companies developed books and lesson plans to teach children about personal finance? What if they or the Investment Company Institute lobbied state departments of education to offer financial education to high school students? They would be doing future generations a tremendous service about understanding financial responsibility while making their brand names known to potential customers and, perhaps, earning their business.

In fact, some states are already making financial literacy part of the course curriculum, but typically it's folded into social studies rather than given as a stand-alone course. That has been the case at the schools in Memphis, through a grant from First Tennessee. The Shelby County school board chairman, himself a financial planner and champion of the pilot course, said he's fully aware that schools in the rest of the state will be paying close attention to the classes in his district, which he dubbed "an action plan for economic survival," proudly adding, "We could be a model for the rest of the state."

A good place for fund companies to start would be to examine the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, which offers training programs for educators, parents and students for free at its website, jumpstart.org. Major topics in the program include income, money management, saving and investing and spending, including consumer credit.

To its credit, in 2004, Citigroup committed to spending $200 million over 10 years to support financial education programs and organizations around the world through the formation of the Citi Office of Financial Education. Since then, Citigroup has developed a financial education curriculum for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Citigroup said it supports financial education "because it helps people understand how to use financial resources, and in the process, raises the quality of life for individuals, families and institutions and strengthens communities around the world."

For its part, the ICI formed an Edu-cation Foundation in 2000 in partnership with the National Urban League and the Hispanic College Fund to promote the benefits of long-term investing among African-Americans and Hispanics.

Wouldn't it be helpful if the ICI undertook a similar initiative for schoolchildren?

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