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States continue progress on financial literacy in schools

More than half of the states have earned passing marks for developing financially literate students, but nearly 30 percent of states scored a D or worse, according to the most recent National Report Card from the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy.

The survey assesses state (and Washington, D.C.) efforts to improve financial literacy in high school students and is meant to raise awareness about the importance of teaching the subject, says John Pelletier, director of the center.

“The first thing I say to any superintendent or principal looking at this report card is if you’re assuming that financial literacy is being taught in the home, you’re wrong,” says Pelletier. “The second largest financial decision that many students are going to make in their lifetimes is when they’re about 18 and deciding if they’re going to go to college or not. We need to make sure they understand the economic consequences.”

Making the grade

The center assesses state policy every two years. Grades range from an A (awarded to states that require personal finance instruction equal to a one-semester, half-year course) to an F (given to states with no personal finance requirements). The most recent report, released in January, shows that states continue to move in the right direction, says Pelletier.

For a good example of progress, Pelletier points to Alabama, which went from an F at the end of 2015 to an A this time. “They went from not requiring anything to requiring the equivalent of a standalone, one-semester course in personal finance for all students who graduate,” he says.

Texas and Virginia also earned A grades. Texas students must pass an economics course that includes 15 hours of personal finance. And all Texas high schools must offer a standalone personal finance course. Students studying personal finance in Virginia must learn to calculate net cost of attendance, loan debt and potential earning when measuring the economic value of postsecondary studies.

Developing a program

For states and districts that have no financial literacy curriculum and cannot develop standalone electives, Pelletier suggests starting by embedding key topics—such as credit and student loans—into an economics or math class. States moving toward personalized learning should consider including personal finance topics, such as understanding credit scores and calculating potential career earnings.

Finally, educators can find free curricula, lesson plans and content at www.teachfinlit.org