by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

Many young people lack basic financial knowledge and skills due to insufficient personal finance training. This, coupled with an increasingly complex financial world, can make it difficult for young people to effectively borrow, save, invest, and plan for their futures.

According to the Council for Economic Education, 30 states have passed legislation or regulatory changes to require students to take a personal finance course in order to graduate from high school. Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy estimates that New York students receive approximately 15 hours of personal finance instruction during their high school careers as part of a 12th-grade economics course.

Many feel that this is inadequate and there is growing support for mandating financial literacy. In fact, last fall, the State Education Department’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures recommended to the Board of Regents that financial literacy should be a graduation requirement.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa and New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli co-authored an op-ed last month in support of this recommendation. They wrote that it is “time for New York to catch up to states who for decades have taught a financial literacy course and required it for high school graduation.”

Over the past several years, there have been several bills introduced to include financial education in New York State schools starting as early as Pre-K. The comptroller has said these bills merit further discussion.

Only 20 high schools in the state currently offer a stand-alone, semester-long personal finance course for graduation, according to Rosa and DiNapoli. In their op-ed, the state commissioner and comptroller cited Akron High School, outside of Buffalo, as a model. The district first introduced its course in 2016 and two years later made it a graduation requirement.

Other states have already seen the benefits of implementing this requirement. Georgia, Idaho, and Texas reported higher credit scores and lower relative delinquency rates for students who take a personal finance course compared to those who did not.

Several factors have contributed to the need for stronger financial knowledge, including the effects of the pandemic and a drop in students’ math scores and interest. According to a 2023 report from the TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, U.S. adults have a “generally poor” level of financial literacy, leaving them vulnerable to predatory practices and struggling to build secure futures.

While finance is particularly relevant for high school students as they prepare for more independence, there are growing arguments that schools must start this effort as early as elementary school. Early experiences with financial decision-making can shape lifelong behaviors, attitudes, and preferences.

The complexity of today’s finances demands more than just basic math skills or a few hours of instruction within a traditional high school economics course. Age-appropriate financial literacy concepts, coupled with a stand-alone financial literacy course, will help young people make better, more informed decisions as they grow and become independent citizens.

Schools can also incorporate finance into existing math lessons, with exercises on budgeting, compound interest or calculating loan payments. English teachers can ask students to analyze ads or contracts to hone their critical thinking skills. Moreover, gamified learning platforms, guest speakers and collaboration with banks and financial planners can provide real-world learning for teachers and students alike.

Parents, guardians, and family members are encouraged to continue using everyday activities to supplement and extend classroom instruction. Use grocery shopping, paying bills, or comparing prices to teach children about budget, value, and decision-making. Local libraries, banks, and websites can also provide resources and activities to help empower your children to become more fiscally responsible.

Let’s equip our students with the skills they need to navigate the financial world with confidence. Join the call for mandatory financial literacy education in New York schools. It’s an investment in our children’s future and the well-being of our communities.

This column will appear in the Register Star and The Daily Mail newspapers.

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