Jajuan Hoskins, a senior at Rhinelander High School, didn’t hesitate when asked by state lawmakers to rank the importance of his personal finance course.
“I would definitely rank this number one,” he said. “Finances are an important part of adulthood.”
His two classmates, who were also testifying before the National Assembly’s education committee, quickly agreed.
The students and their financial education teacher, Patrick Kubeny, spoke on Capitol Hill this week in support of a proposal to make a personal finance course a graduation requirement for all Wisconsin students.
The proposal goes further than legislation passed in 2017 that required school districts to adopt academic standards for financial literacy.
Currently, it is up to each district to decide how to implement these standards, resulting in wide variation across the state. In some districts, a teacher trained in personal finance teaches a stand-alone course. In others, material is sprinkled throughout courses in economics, business and technology, or family and consumer sciences.
“We’re at a point where talking about a two-week unit in an economics class about debt being bad and compound interest can be good is just not good enough,” he said. Kerri Herrildwho teaches business and personal finance at De Pere.
“Most of us learned finance the hard way. Live and let learn, right? You learned by making your mistakes,” she told the Assembly committee. “That’s how we did things. But the cost of mistakes is just too high now.”
Although testimony at a public hearing this week was overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal, several key groups voiced their opposition – not to the content of the course, but to the mandate to teach it.
In a letter to the committee, the State Department of Public Instruction, led by Superintendent Jill Underly, questioned whether the mandate was necessary given existing requirements and what school districts are already doing. Local districts have also expressed concerns about teacher shortages and the need to cut other electives if personal finances are needed, according to DPI.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards expressed similar concerns, writing that the law could “impose costs and other burdens on school districts that could force school boards to reduce or eliminate critical programs at the high school level.”
National nonprofit offers support for teacher training and a free program
If the new proposal becomes law, Wisconsin will join 10 other states that require a standalone personal finance course, according to Next Generation Personal Financea national not-for-profit financial education organization.
About 34% of Wisconsin high school students attend a school where a personal finance court is required, and an additional 59% attend a school that offers the elective, according to Next Gen.
The nonprofit financial literacy giant is committed to supporting the implementation of the course’s mandate in Wisconsin.
More than 1,600 Wisconsin teachers already have accounts to use the nonprofit’s free program and more than 450 of them have participated in professional development through the nonprofit over the course of of the past four years, Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen, said in an interview with the Sentinel Journal.
“I don’t want the zip code to be fate as to whether you have access to this essential course,” he said.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed the movement to increase financial literacy in Milwaukee in its Steps to Success Series. Last year, Milwaukee Public Schools added a personal finance course as a graduation requirement, making it one of the few major urban districts in the nation to do so. Next Gen awarded a $490,000 grant over three years to MPS to help scale up its financial education efforts.
Research suggests that policies requiring personal finance make a difference.
A study found that among first-generation or low-income students who had taken such a course, loan repayment was higher, suggesting that these students were more likely to have completed college and found employment. better paid.
Another study showed that once personal finance training was required, credit scores increased and delinquency rates decreased.
William Rutkowski, one of the Rhineland students who testified in support of the bill, said his personal finances taught him about student loans, scholarships and grants as he prepared for college.
“Without this information, I feel like I could have easily been duped and lost a lot of money to interest and overdraft fees,” he said.
The Assembly Education Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the proposal.