When Ryan Diaz, a 17-year-old high school senior, started working as cashiering, he spent $3,000 on clothing and other small items in the first two months. He used to be “terrible with money,” he says.
He then began taking a personal finance class at Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, California. Now he carefully budgets to save for college—and eventually, a down payment on a house. “So I don’t have to struggle as much,” Diaz says. “I’ve seen my family struggle with certain things and almost want to give more but not enough to give.”
Diaz is one of a growing number of teens learning about money in school.
During the 2020-21 academic year, 7 out of 10 public high school students had access to a full-semester of personal finance, As per Next Gen Personal Finance, either as an optional or a graduate requirement. This is more than 2 out of 3 last year.
The number of states that require or will soon require students to take a semester of personal finance has doubled in the past three years from 5 to 11. As of early April, about 20 states are considering more than 40 bills promoting personal finance education, according to the NGPF.
“We are creating a wave of action and momentum across the country, right?,” says Yanelli Espinal, director of NGPF Education Outreach, who played a major role in Florida as a Miami resident, signing it into law this spring. A new bill to finance compulsory personal high school education.
“It’s going to be slow progress with 12.th13th14th15th state,” she says. “But then progress will be much faster. By the time we have the 30 states require, your state is embarrassed to be left behind.”
There’s even more movement at the local level: According to the NGPF, for the first time in the last school year more students were required to take a semester-long personal finance class in states that don’t mandate it. It is thanks to the passionate community stakeholders.
Explaining to Students How Choices Can Help You ‘Make a Millionaire’
Diaz and other 17- and 18-year-old seniors I met at Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, California, are already making strides toward short- and long-term financial goals. They are learning about saving, budgeting, loans, investing, careers, etc.
Dahlia Aldaz says learning about budgeting has been the most life-changing for her. For example, he stopped spending $35 every other day at Starbucks to save up for a car.
Joseph Rendon says he recently spent $400 a month eating out. Now he is saving more so that he can one day invest in stocks and cryptocurrencies. “It’s basically passive income,” he says. “Your money is working for you.”
since I was bad with money until my mid-twenties, never saving for future goals and considering investing recently, I was impressed by what I saw in their class.
I was present as the student’s teacher, Marina White, demonstrated the power of investing and compound interest. “It’s a decision, every weekend and every morning you decide to leave some Starbucks to hang out here, by the time you retire, you can be a millionaire.”
Many of White’s students are “shocked” when they learn that their behavior and choices can affect them so strongly. their financial future.
The students I met are among more than 4,700 senior citizens who have taken or are taking personal finance at Southern California’s William Hart School District since first grade began at Canyon High in 2015.
The course counts as one semester of mathematics but graduation is not required.
Communities Fighting for Personal Finance Education
What happened in the Hart district is a model for how personal finance education is spreading rapidly at the grassroots, even when the state does not require it.
According to the Council for Economic Education’s 2022 report, California is one of just three states, along with Washington, D.C., that do not include personal finance education in their K-12 standards.
According to the NGPF, statewide, less than 1% of students in California were required to take a semester of personal finance during the 2020-21 academic year. more than half Students in California learn personal finance as part of another course – usually for just a few weeks in an economics class. One in 5 had no access at all.
So former Canyon high teacher Kim Arnold and local personal finance coach Brandy Hayter took matters into their own hands.
Concerned about his students being crippled by college debt, Arnold persuaded school and district administrators to introduce him to a personal finance class. The problem was, she says, that the school or district budget didn’t have funding for the curriculum.
That’s when Arnold was introduced to Hayter, who was already an advocate of personal finance education at Santa Clarita schools. “But being an outsider, there was no interest in talking to anyone in the district office or the schools she called,” Arnold said. “He needed me, and I needed him.”
To start a personal finance class at Canyon High, Hayter donated the $2,000 needed for the curriculum and textbooks.
“Rumors spread fast,” Hayter says. “The students were having a great time in class. They took the information back to their parents. Their parents started talking to their friends and their friends started asking each other, ‘Well, what about my son or daughter? Why is it not like this in this school?’ And we started getting calls from parents almost every single day or every week.”
Granting classes at eight other high schools in the district was a team effort. The Hart District provided approximately $19,000. The Hayter family and another donor, real estate agent Sam Neelan, donated approximately $18,000. Arnold also secured a grant of about $10,000.
“I’m hoping my district will be a beacon for the rest of the state,” Hayter says.
‘The status quo is a very powerful thing when it comes to public education policy’
Studies by several economists show that financial education improves financial outcomes: an increase in credit scores, a decline in non-student loans, an increase in student loan repayments, and a decline in credit card shortages.
Still, changing the education system is not easy. “The status quo is a very powerful thing when it comes to public education policy,” says California Senate Minority Leader Scott Wilk, who previously served as deputy chairman of the CA Senate Education Committee.
One of the challenges is that high schools are in the business of preparing students for college—a traditionally paved path to the American dream.
“Funding schools is based on their attendance. So they want to make sure they attract students to their schools, and at the high school level, that means providing a lot of AP courses,” said director of programs in California Joshua Mitton says. Council on Economic Education. “Versus thinking about how we, as a public education system, can prepare students for the rest of their lives, whether they go to college or not?”
Personal finance faces competition from other disciplines vying to establish a permanent place in the school curriculum, each with its own passionate constituency. Think classes on mental health, geography, ethnic studies, and nutrition.
“Everybody wants a piece of the school curriculum,” says Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ve had a century of adding things to what we want schools to teach, which is totally worthwhile.”
And when you need a new curriculum, there’s often something else to go through, because there aren’t enough hours in the school day. Then you’ve got backlash. “There are already people out there who have a vested interest in this. So you’re rolling the boulder uphill all the time,” Wilk says.
A new course may be needed be expensive too. For example, California will soon require students to take one semester of ethnic studies. The state estimates it could cost more than $270 million each year.
Still, Wilk says the cost of personal finance education will be worth it. “If people are financially literate, they are going to make better choices,” he says. “They’re not going to be a pressure on the greater society. And we’ll give them the tools to work with to create wealth for themselves.”
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