Financial literacy classes need funding
Income taxes. Credit card applications. Insurance rates. Credit scores. W-4 forms. Apartment rental applications.
Most adults not only recognize what all these items are, they also have had firsthand experience with them. Adults must understand financial necessities such as how to fill out mortgage or rental applications, the importance of a strong credit score and how to budget their income so they don’t run out of funds before their next paycheck. It’s simply part of being able to function successfully as an adult. Being financially literate is the path to homeownership, a rewarding career or success as an entrepreneur.
High school students also should have basic knowledge about budgeting, saving money, using credit wisely and appropriately assessing the financial implications of loan payback requirements. Whether students plan to go on to college after they graduate, or whether they are bound for the military or the workforce, possessing basic financial skills is vital.
Unfortunately, while many high schools in the region offer great personal finance courses, some schools offer none. Even in places where the courses are available, students are not required to take them.
Miria Gray, a community education officer with Chelsea Groton Bank, told a Day reporter recently that while she sees terrific personal finance classes offered in many high schools, other schools, particularly those in more cash-strapped districts, do not offer their students the same opportunities.
“Unfortunately, the districts that have more money are able to provide the financial education to students,” she said. “You find that the lower-income households are not getting the same equitable education as others.”
At a time when we all are required to figure out on our own the cost-benefit of various health and car insurance options, loan products and retirement savings plans, this inequity is not acceptable.
Some Connecticut lawmakers want to change this reality and proposed legislation is now pending that would mandate financial literacy be taught in high school. Gray provided testimony in support of this bill, saying the consequences of poor financial literacy are more serious than occasionally bouncing a check. She connected the inability to appropriately handle finances with failing to pass employment background checks, risking the loss of security clearance in the military and making poor health decisions. Those who struggle financially are more likely to develop or ignore health concerns, she said.
We agree with Gray and the lawmakers who proposed this bill that basic financial literacy is a must. Not understanding basics such as the value of saving money, maintaining a strong credit score or having the proper deductions taken from a paycheck have direct implications for everyday life. The Day has been especially interested in financial literacy in connection with the paper’s Housing Solutions Lab because we understand that how well young people understand basic financial decision-making has a direct impact on their preparedness to rent an apartment or own a home.
While we understand the vital nature of this learning, we are reluctant to support yet another state mandate on public education. Educators understand how little time already is left over for innovative classroom pursuits after getting through all the required teaching.
We think a better approach to ensuring high school students graduate with solid personal finance skills is a law that provides school districts with financial incentives to develop and teach such curriculum. This could lead to both stand-alone personal finance courses, as well as creative integration of financial literacy into existing math curriculum.
We urge lawmakers to amend the proposed legislation so that it offers school districts attractive incentives to provide these opportunities to students.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser, retired executive editor Tim Cotter and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.