Personal Finance Education Critical for Students, Especially During COVID

Education advocate Tim Ranzetta says he hopes Miguel Cardona, newly confirmed Secretary of Education, will promote financial literacy.
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By Tim Ranzetta

Miguel Cardona, was confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of Education Monday night, and he likely will find an ally in First Lady Jill Biden, herself a strong advocate for education with a passion for teaching. The first lady and Cardona will surely agree with educators eager to move past the pandemic and improve learning so that every young person has a fair chance at the American dream.

I believe that dream would be more achievable if personal finance education was finally recognized as a critical component throughout middle and high school. Unfortunately, just six states require a full-semester high school course in personal finance for graduation. I hope Cardona uses his bully pulpit to urge more school boards and state legislators to listen to and consider the arguments of personal finance educators.

Cardona, 45, has been Connecticut commissioner of education since 2019. He has been a public school teacher, principal, administrator.

At Next Gen Personal Finance, we interact with educators daily, and since March, they have invested earnestly in their own professional development, spending more than 100,000 hours building their content knowledge and honing their teaching craft to this new environment.

Their passion is palpable. Dr. Ashley Bowers, who teaches high school American literature outside of Charleston, S.C., integrates personal finance into her lessons. Why? Like thousands of teachers I have spoken with over the past decade, Bowers believes that personal finance may be the most important subject in high school.

Courtney Poquette, a personal finance teacher at Winooski High School in Winooski, Vt. believes that inserting personal finance into a business or civics class, as many districts do across the country, is not enough. During the pandemic, Courtney developed a self-paced class, accessible to every student. She checks in with them to ensure they are engaged and progressing. She says she loves when students tell her they go home and explain credit scores to their parents.

She says COVID has demonstrated even more clearly the need for financial skills and knowledge, and that full-semester course we advocate is but a baseline for lifelong learning. She wishes she could be her school’s first financial counselor, sort of a guidance counselor for families facing financial decisions.

Tony Montgomery has taught personal finance at City-As-School High School in New York City for years. To Montgomery, the fact that a 2017 study showed that just 1 in 20 students in low-income school districts take a personal finance course is “criminal.”

The very poor often don’t know what they don’t know, he says, and they never learn about money management. “It’s pretty simple,” Montgomery says. “If you know better, you do better. I believe that loan and credit card companies and some other organizations really don’t want everyone to understand money and wealth. That’s because there’s big money in poverty.”

Kerri Herrild, a business teacher at De Pere High School in De Pere, Wisc., helped a homeless student get free lunch and have school fees waived. She showed him how to set up a bank account and get a job. With COVID, she says it’s more important than ever to understand the value of emergency savings, managing debt, reducing financial risk and ways to pay for college. She notes that her students can see the struggles of their parents and they understand the importance of being financially proactive.

Julius Prezelski teaches personal finance at Mount St. Joseph’s High School in Baltimore. Thanks to his guidance, a former student saved money by enrolling in a public university, putting more money into his 403B account, getting rid of a car loan and investing in the stock market. This student and others tell Prezelski that his class was the best they ever took, that it pays dividends all the time. He says that learning about finance by making mistakes doesn’t help anyone, and that the more one knows about such topics, the more likely it is that they will make sound decisions.

We all hope Cardona and the Biden administration will support personal finance education as a significant influence that gives students the power to climb out of poverty and build wealth.

About the author: Tim Ranzetta is co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance, a Palo Alto, Calif. non-profit start-up with a mission to ensure that all high school students cross the graduation stage having taken a personal finance course by 2030.