As a volunteer financial counselor at his church, Wisconsin State Senator Chris Kapenga was surprised by consumers’ lack of knowledge about money management.
“I was shocked by the low level of financial capability of people coming out of school,” said Kapenga, a Republican from Delafield. “People at university were in debt. My philosophy has always been to be able to manage your own budget. No matter what you do, everyone has to deal with it.
Since money management is a fundamental life skill, Kapenga felt that the best way to impart financial know-how would be to make it a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
Soon it will.
Governor Scott Walker recently signed into law legislation drafted by Kapenga and Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) that requires public school boards across the state to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and integrate financial education personal skills in the kindergarten through high school curriculum. school.
The legislation had bipartisan backing and the backing of nearly every profession that deals with personal finance issues – bankers, financial advisers, landlords, accountants, insurance companies and social workers.
“Financial education is an important aspect of every person’s life,” said Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.
The subject has been discussed in the legislature for years, but until now it has not been mandatory for public schools to teach children about personal finance. In 2006, the state Department of Public Instruction set standards for what students should learn about personal finance and money, but schools did not have to make it part of their required education.
However, many school districts have undertaken financial education on their own, applying personal finance courses to subjects such as math and social studies. About 74% of the state’s more than 400 school districts incorporate personal finance education into the curriculum at some level, and some require a course for graduation, according to Krug.
This is one of the reasons the Department of Public Instruction was, as spokesman Tom McCarthy put it, “pretty agnostic” about the legislation.
However, the lack of firm commitment earned Wisconsin an “F” grade in a 2017 financial literacy report from the just-released Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy, which reviews financial literacy requirements every two years. financial education in public schools around the world. United States. Wisconsin joined Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and the District of Columbia with a failing grade. The Champlain College report, released last week but completed before Walker’s Nov. 30 signing, noted that Wisconsin has pending financial literacy legislation that “offers hope for improvement.”
For Kapenga and other lawmakers, it was about not leaving it up to school districts to decide which children in the state did or did not receive a financial education.
To alleviate cost concerns, the legislation simply requires each school board to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate lessons into the K-12 curriculum. Many banks, credit unions, and finance-related organizations offer resources to help you. A website developed by the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation called mymazuma.com, for example, offers extensive financial literacy information for all ages, while the National Credit Union Foundation’s “Reality Fair” is a financial literacy tool for high school students.
As school boards begin to address the financial education requirement, they might want to consider what the Appleton Area School District has done. Over 13 years ago, the District of Appleton formed a committee to study the economic and social impact of a lack of basic financial literacy on the community.
“We found that money and financial problems in Wisconsin were the number one cause of divorce, one of the top causes of suicides, and the number one reason for the increase in personal bankruptcies,” said Rita O’Brien, Coordinator of Vocational Learning and Vocational and Technical Education. coordinator for the Appleton area school district. “For many students, this meant a future filled with problems related to money, credit and employment.”
Moreover, she said, the study concluded that the absence of financial education would not leave students as prepared as they should “to become knowledgeable consumers, prudent savers and investors, productive members of the workforce and informed voters on issues critical to their communities”.
These findings prompted the school board in 2004 to increase graduation requirements to include a personal finance management course.
Today, the district incorporates personal finance lessons into its curriculum at various grade levels across math, social studies, family and consumer science, and other subjects. Its compulsory semester course, which can be taken in the first or final year, covers the topics of income, money management, spending and credit, savings and investment, consumer and risk management.
Throughout the development of the district’s financial literacy program, schools in the Appleton area have benefited from the assistance of the Appleton-based Community First Credit Union, which is one of the three largest credit unions in the Wisconsin. As early as 2004, he opened a student-run branch at Appleton West High School. Now Community First has branches in three high schools, a middle school, and an elementary school.
But even with the help of a major credit union, the personal financial management program isn’t without cost, especially in the district that takes it as seriously as the Appleton School District does. Its teachers for the programs hold a bachelor’s degree in business/marketing, economics or family and consumer science. It has about four full-time employees, costing the district about $400,000 a year, O’Brien said.
Kapenga said Wisconsin law gives school boards wide latitude to decide how they will implement financial education.
“We kept the light. We haven’t talked about how long or what program,” he said.
Kapenga added: “It’s been a long push. If I understand correctly, members of the Legislative Assembly have been saying for decades that we should do something. So it’s good to have finally done that.