A Groundswell of Support to Advance Financial Literacy

By Corey Carlisle

According to the Council for Economic Education’s 2018 “Survey of the States,” financial independence may be out of reach for many because K-12 students are not receiving adequate tools and training to make informed financial decisions. The survey found that after years of progress, there’s been only modest improvement in economic and financial education in the United States. 

Despite studies that show students in states that require financial education have higher credit scores and generally demonstrate more responsible spending habits, only one-third of states require students to graduate having taken a personal finance class, and of those, only seven states require testing to accompany classroom instruction. Since 2016, no additional states have added personal finance to their K-12 standards or requirements. 

“Being financially literate cannot guarantee future success, but the personal and national costs of being financially ignorant are immense,” writes Ryan Leung, a rising senior at Lexington High School in Massachusetts and winner of the 2016 National Economics Challenge, in an op-ed published alongside CEE’s Survey. “My generation is being academically prepared for life after graduation; it is now time for us to be financially prepared.”

Advocates for financial education are rallying to get these critical life skills into more classrooms beginning in elementary school, with a twin goal of improving the effectiveness of this education through teacher training and support. In April, Financial Literacy Month, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy—of which ABA is a member—plus 100 national organizations and 51 affiliated state coalitions announced new goals for increasing by 25 percent the number of U.S. elementary, middle and high school students receiving effective classroom-based financial education by 2025 and seeking 25 percent growth in the number of teachers trained in personal finance education. 

The campaign has been dubbed “Project Groundswell” for its strategy to enlist parents, family members, educators, volunteers and the coalition’s network of state affiliates. “Parents, grandparents and guardians are the most vocal advocates for their own kids’ education,” says Laura Levine, president and CEO of Jump$tart. “Through this initiative, we hope to encourage family members to help us ask for financial education at their kids’ schools and provide information and resources they’ll need to get the attention of teachers and administrators.”

Educational requirements in the United States are established at the local level by states, territories and local jurisdictions. Financial education requirements, like all education requirements, vary to some extent from one location to the next.

Experts agree it’s going to take change at the local level and purposeful intervention inside and out of the classroom if we hope to ready young people to lead financially capable lives. According to Ballotpedia—an online encyclopedia of American elections—in 2018, there will be 913 school board seats up for election across 26 states. Collectively, these districts served almost 12 million students during the 2015-2016 school year—approximately 24 percent of all public school students in the U.S. If every concerned parent or family member asked their local education official about how or if financial education was being taught in schools, great change can happen. It’s time for a groundswell in search of a financially literate future.