Pandemic spurs school finance courses

Many of us don’t learn how to manage money until we’re faced with our first true financial decision, like renting an apartment, applying for a credit card or buying a car. But what if you learned about budgeting or credit scores in the low-stakes environment of a classroom instead? It may not sound like fun, but at least it’s more practical than trigonometry.

Financial literacy hasn’t traditionally been a priority in schools, but that is changing. The number of states requiring personal finance instruction in schools more than doubled over the past decade . Since the Great Recession, ballooning student loan debt and advocacy efforts, more people are aware of the importance of learning about money.

Now, because of the pandemic, educators say there’s never been more interest in the subject from students and parents. This year alone, lawmakers in more than 20 states introduced bills to add personal finance classes in high schools.


States typically dictate how personal finance is taught in schools. Twenty-two states required some form of personal finance education in high schools for the 2020-21 ac ademic year, according to research published in April by Carly Urban , an associate professor of economics at Montana State University. The benefits of teaching high school students basic personal finance concepts include better credit scores and lower rates of delinquency on debt as adults, research by Urban and others shows.

But personal finance education requirements vary. Some states require a course to be offered as an elective in high schools. Others allow personal finance concepts to be tucked into broader subjects such as economics or mathematics. When a standalone personal finance course is offered, the curriculum may be outdated, which can defeat the purpose of teaching teenagers real-world skills.

“Teaching young people how to write a check is not enough in a world of Venmo,” a money transfer app, says Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance, an organization based in Palo Alto, California, that provides free curriculum and professional development for personal finance teachers nationwide. Next Gen advocates for personal finance to be offered as a mandatory standalone course for an entire semester.

Urban says the most important concepts students need to understand are how credit scores and credit reports work, how to compare financial products like loans and how to make a budget that balances savings, paying off debt and managing expenses.


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