Lee Jimenez, a teacher at Indian Hill Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, discusses credit cards and payment methods with his 3rd grade class using the SmartPath online financial education program.
There has been an additional push to introduce personal finance education to secondary schools across the country this year, following the coronavirus pandemic.
So far in 2021, 25 US states have introduced legislation that would add personal finance education to their high school curriculum, according to Next Gen Personal Finance’s bill tracker.
Bills in Arkansas, Hawaii and Nebraska were passed this year and signed into law. Bills in four other states — Colorado, Nevada, Rhode Island and Texas — have passed and are awaiting governors’ signatures.
“In recent years, I have not seen so many [bills] that have been important and have made it all the way to the governor’s office,” said Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit personal finance education organization.
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Personal finance training in the United States
Seven states—Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, North Carolina, and Mississippi—have what Next Gen Personal Finance calls the gold standard of personal finance education: a half-semester stand-alone course that focuses only on personal finance. Beyond that, some 21 states require personal finance training but say it can be incorporated into another course.
If all of the bills proposed this year pass, Nebraska and Rhode Island would join the gold ranks. The Texas bill is close – it does not require personal finance education to be in a stand-alone course.
The impact of the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has most certainly played a role in highlighting the importance of personal finance education, due to the economic impact it has had on the United States.
Over the past year, shutdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19 have led to millions of Americans losing their jobs or cutting hours and income, which has taken a huge toll on household finances. Even if the United States reopens and vaccinations increase, it may take years for those who have been hardest hit to recover, especially if they have fallen behind on bills and rent during the pandemic. .
“There is a feeling that some people are being left behind, and the pandemic has kind of exacerbated some of those structural issues,” Ranzetta said. “And while financial education isn’t the silver bullet, or the panacea for these problems, it’s an important skill for young people to develop.”
This reflects what happened a decade ago, after the financial crisis. The states that were the first to guarantee high school personal finance classes began their tenure after the Great Recession, according to Ranzetta.
Of course, introducing a bill is only one step towards improving access to personal finance education. It can take months or even years for bills introduced in the state legislature to reach the governor’s office for signing. And, it is possible that some of the bills introduced this year will not go as far if they do not have the necessary support.
Plus, not all bills are created equal, and the devil is in the details, according to Ranzetta. Beyond the passage of the bill, the way it is implemented in schools and the support given to teachers responsible for leading classes are important.
“The success of the implementation relies on the teacher being highly qualified and competent to teach the course,” he said.
But overall, the lightness of the introduced legislation is a good sign of things to come.
“I don’t mean to jinx it, but by all indications there are several states where you’re going to see a significant increase in the number of students with access to financial education,” Ranzetta said.
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