Money money money! For Montana schools

Today the governor of Montana announced a whole heckuva lotta grant money for improving schools throughout the state.

The grants are from the Quality Schools Planning Grants Program. Missoula’s elementary district is set to get $25,000 and Missoula’s high schools will get another $25,000. Read on for the complete list of totals for 36 different districts throughout Montana:

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Moms respond to humor, balance between reality and idealism

You know those “Swagger Wagon” ads for Toyota? Or those commercials for Volkswagen with the little kid in Darth Vader gear? Both are considered marketing hits – largely because they strike the right tone with a certain segment of the American population that has a lot of buying clout: moms.

I’m fascinated by marketing that tries to convince me to buy stuff, perhaps because I’m such a tightwad with my money (and by “my” money, I mean the money that my husband earns too). Or perhaps it’s because ad agency’s attempts to capture “a portion of the market representing $2.3 trillion in spending power” are so often so off-base.

That’s a problem tackled earlier this week at the first-ever Advertising Week event reported in this MediaPostNews Marketing Daily article. According to those who spoke at the event, one of the main reasons these agencies struggle to reach moms is because so few moms work in ad agencies.

Another reason: moms are increasingly moving away from traditional advertising vehicles (think TV) and toward other forms of communication (think blogs, Facebook and Twitter).

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Children’s Defense Fund calls poverty rates ‘a national disgrace’

So today the Census Bureau released some pretty awful statistics on poverty in America and poverty among the youngest Americans in particular, and the Children’s Defense Fund released a statement calling the numbers “grim and shameful.”

The U.S. Census Bureau says that, at last count, more than 46 million people in this country could be considered poor. This is the highest percentage in more than 50 years. Even worse, more than 16 million children – or one in three kids – are poor. Worse still, 5.5 million of these are children under the age of 5.

“Children are the poorest age group in the country and getting poorer,” says the CDF.

“This is a national disgrace,” says CDF President Marian Wright Edelman. “Parents alone cannot protect children. Parents have no control over the massive joblessness and foreclosures and misguided tax cuts for the wealthy that have ravished our economy. Congress needs to wake up and change course to protect our children and their families. We must stop this devastation in our communities and protect children from all budget cuts. We need to invest in the health and education of our children and create jobs for their parents today.”

What, exactly, does it mean to be “poor.” According to the Census Bureau, poverty for a family of four means an annual income of less than $22,314.  Break it down: That’s $1,860 a month, $429 a week, or $60 a day. And “extreme poverty” means an annual income of less than half that amount of money: $11,157 a year, $930 a month, $215 a week, or $30 a day for a family of four.

Here’s another kicker: More than half of these poor families – 65 percent, in fact – with children under the age of 18 include at least one working family member.

And how are Montana’s children faring in all this? Unfortunately, the latest Kids Count report ranked us in 33rd place for the overall well-being of children. Read the Missoulian’s editorial decrying this sad state of affairs here.

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Nearly 500 Missoula kids losing access to Flagship programs

The Missoulian’s education reporter, Jamie Kelly, reports today that due to a drop in federal funding, Flagship is pulling out of two schools in Missoula County.

The decision to end Flagship programs – including after-school options – at Sentinel High School and Seeley-Swan High School was necessary after the program’s funding lost $200,000 in federal money, according to Flagship’s Missoula director, Rosie Buzzas.

That $200,000 represented more than a quarter of the program’s $700,000 annual budget. So it goes without saying that Flagship won’t be filling two open full-time positions at the schools.

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BBB has back-to-school shopping tips for parents and students

Less than one month to go before school starts! And I’m already more nervous and excited than my soon-to-be first-grader.

The way she’s growing, we’ll be waiting until the last minute before we do any back-to-school clothes shopping. In the meantime, our regional Better Business Bureau is sending out five tips and other advice geared toward back-to-school shopping parents and older students – such as those in the market for computers and credit cards.

The tips include asking about refunds and returns, asking about restocking fees, carefully vetting businesses and their deals, being a smart online shopper and keeping all items in their original boxes. Check out the tips in detail, as well as more information, here.

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Fear of layoffs a factor in back-to-school shopping outlook this year

In theory I subscribe to the needs-over-wants attitude toward back-to-school shopping. But when that list of must-have school supplies landed in our mailbox a while back, I have to admit, the thought of buying a brand-new box of crayons and new glue made me smile.

Back to school already? But there are still almost two months to go before the first day of school on August 29!

Nevertheless, the National Retail Federation is preparing to release its latest survey results, which focus on parent expectations on their back-to-school shopping needs.

Back-to-school shoppers are expected to be a little more practical-minded this year, according to NRF partner BIGresearch. The survey results showed that nearly half the respondents report being more practical shoppers already.

And more than 25 percent of respondents said they fear that more job layoffs are coming – which goes hand-in-hand with the one-third of respondents who say they are focusing their financial activities on paying down debt, leading to a decrease in spending.

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Online survey of moms shows shopping trends in a recession

This MediaPost article published last week gives a quick overview of the results a recent online survey of nearly 2,000 moms who were asked about their shopping habits. It is aimed at industry folk, but I think it contains little tidbits of interest to moms in general as well.

Tidbits such as: “the lessons learned from the recent economic climate are lasting ones” and, “The recession’s impact on Moms and their shopping habits is reflected with the emergence of the Frugalista Mom, a discerning shopper who clips coupons, shops sales and prices and is proud of the money she saves at the cash register.”

Ha. I’ve been a Frugalista Mom for years.

How about you, reader? Have you changed the way you buy, what you buy or how often you buy in response to the recession?

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NRF says new credit rules will be hard on stay-at-home moms

I’ve been pondering this opinion piece I read last week from the National Retail Federation. It posits that the new Federal Reserve regulations that require specific income information for credit applicants could make it harder for stay-at-home spouses to get credit cards – because the new regs require businesses to ask for “income” rather than “household income.”

And as we all know, stay-at-home moms and dads don’t get a paycheck.

“The prohibition on asking for ‘household income’ was originally intended to keep individuals under 21 from claiming their parents’ income in order to obtain cards they could not afford on their own,” according to the article.

It goes on to explain that the NRF is worried that a lot of these folks will interpret this particular question narrowly, and answer by providing their individual income, which would be zero dollars. The Fed thinks otherwise.

What say you?

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Wishing fountain money is used to help local children

Ever given your child a couple of pennies to toss into the fountain inside Southgate Mall and wondered just where all those coins wound up?

Southgate provided the answer in a news release sent out yesterday announcing the grand reopening of the fountain that has been undergoing some renovation for the past few months.

Here’s the news:

We’ve all been there – you step up to a fountain as you rifle through your pockets for change to toss in.  Especially for children, it is a magical moment where you can wish for anything in the world as you send your coin into the sparkling water.  For over a decade the Southgate Mall Wish Fountain has been such a place for visitors young and old to cast their wishes.  Built in early 1998, it has served as a meeting place, a hangout spot, and a point of reference for mall goers, as well as a home for hundreds of thousands of coins.

Stop by it these days and you’ll notice something’s different.  The project began this past December to put a new face on the iconic water feature.  Southgate Mall’s maintenance team and tile professionals spent several hundred hours sanding, tiling and grouting to give the fountain a fresh and clean new style.

In one year, the fountain contents typically yield anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000, which is donated to local nonprofit organizations.  Past recipients of Wish Fountain Funds include Montana Natural Resources Youth Camp, Montana Food Bank, Flagship Program, and Mountain Home Montana, to name a few.  This year Southgate Mall’s Board of Directors has selected the Jadyn Fred Foundation, a Missoula-based organization that assists families who have children battling cancer or other major medical issues, as the recipient of the Wish Fountain Fund amounting to $5,000.

The public is invited to join in celebration of the grand reopening of the Wish Fountain and a check presentation to the Jadyn Fred Foundation on Thursday, March 10 at 3:00pm.

The Jadyn Fred Foundation, for those unfamiliar with the organization, is dedicated to providing financial help to families with children receiving extensive – and expensive – medical care.

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Montana committee recommends funding children’s mental health

First, some background: The state of Montana formed a mental health trust fund using $9.5 million it received from a lawsuit against pharmaceutical maker Eli Lily & Co. a few years back. The state received a total of $13 million from the company after suing it on behalf of Montana consumers who were prescribed an anti-psychotic medication called Zyprexa for conditions it was marketed – but not actually meant – to treat.

The state put in charge of that fund former Montana Supreme Court Justice John Warner, who last year formed a seven-member trust fund committee to help allocate the money. The committee is needed to help sort through the flood of applications from agencies and organizations running a wide variety of mental health programs and services throughout the state.

(The panel includes, by the way, Missoula pharmacy professor and hospital pharmacy consultant William Docktor of Missoula, the only member of the committee who calls the Garden City home).

Now, the committee has release a list of the programs and projects it deems most deserving of funding, and the list so far includes at least two items that would directly fund children’s mental health services.

The Trust Committee is committing funds to, among other things:

  • The Montana Office of Public Instruction, to “join with Tribal Governments, Indian Health Services, the Bureau of Indian affairs, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and the University of Montana in launching a replicable, school-based mental health program which will begin with the Fort Peck Reservation, Crow Reservation and Northern Cheyenne Reservation,” according to a press release from John Warner. OPI will get $600,000 to launch this program.
  • Matching funds in the amount of $300,000 will go to Inter-mountain Deaconess Home for Children, “which when matched dollar for dollar by other sources, will be used to acquire a building in which to establish an integrated Community Mental Health Center specializing in the treatment of children with serious emotional disturbance and severe disabling mental illness.”

Meanwhile, the Trust Committee still has more than 200 applications to sort through and prioritize. As it continues to do so, it’s good to see it hasn’t forgotten about the mental health needs of Montana’s kids.

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