As the New Mexico Department of Public Education prepares to revise its K-12 social studies standards for the first time in two decades, a local nonprofit is pushing the state agency to include an unconventional subject: personal finance.
Santa Fe-based Think New Mexico says public school students could learn practical financial skills while learning economics, which is already taught in social studies classes. If its recommendations are approved, the group says, preschools across the state will ultimately be able to distinguish financial “needs” from “wants” and high school graduates will be able to invest in a Roth IRA and decipher the fine print of the agreements. loan.
“Personal finances alone are not the silver bullet to solving all of our education problems, but it’s a start,” said Abenicio Baldonado, director of education reform at Think New Mexico. “We can begin to tackle the generational poverty that our state has suffered. “
Many students would bring their new financial knowledge home to parents and guardians who might need it, Baldonado added.
The changes to social studies standards have sparked controversy statewide, with much of the attention focused on themes such as social justice and tribal sovereignty. The new standards also aim to ensure that students examine historical events from the perspective of various ethnic groups and learn about different cultures. Some Republican lawmakers decried the overhaul as a move to a “critical theory of race” – a concept in higher education surrounding the role of race in legal institutions.
Think New Mexico is not focusing on this debate, Baldonado said.
“At this point, we haven’t taken a position on anything” other than financial literacy, he said. “But we felt it was an opportunity to really push our initiative to bring personal finance to standards.”
However, not everyone is sure that financial literacy has a place in social studies classes.
Bowden Russell, a math teacher in the Magdalena Municipal School District, said he believes personal finance might be a better suited topic for a math class.
Russell worked as an engineer and a stockbroker. He now teaches a financial literacy class for seniors in the small district of central New Mexico. In her classroom, students often do difficult calculations and navigate complicated tax forms.
“Why remove him from the math department if it takes a math or finance specialist to teach him?” ” he said. “If I wasn’t an engineer or a financier, I wouldn’t know how to teach it.
Gwen Perea Warniment, assistant secretary for public education, wrote in a recent email that the state’s proposed social studies standards already include some principles of financial literacy. She raised some potential concerns about the Think New Mexico proposal, in which students would learn chore money and college funds, due to the high number of public school students living in poverty. “For example, it might be insensitive to ask a third-grade student what tasks she can do to make money or to ask an eighth-grade student how the value of her fund has changed over time. ‘college savings,’ Warniment wrote.
The push for more personal finance classes in state public schools is not new. During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers in New Mexico considered a bill that would have required high school students to earn a half credit in math as part of a finance course.
The measure did not pass.
Baldonado, who previously taught economics at a local charter school, said adding half a credit to math requirements would have created a headache for school counselors trying to make sure seniors were able to graduate.
“It makes more sense to put it in the social sciences,” he said. “Let’s associate it with the economy; let’s show how personal finance and the economy go hand in hand and what that means for the student.
Think New Mexico’s recommendations for financial literacy classes are inspired by states like Colorado that have already taken steps to include the topic in social studies classes. According to the organization’s website, 21 states have some type of financial literacy requirement for public school students.
Tim Ranzetta, who co-founded the national financial literacy organization Next Gen Personal Finance, said Think New Mexico’s proposal could be a “very logical next step” to incorporating stand-alone personal finance classes into public schools. But, he added, it shouldn’t be a stopping point.
“Research shows that about two-thirds of the time, when it’s built into another course, it’s not taught,” Ranzetta said of financial literacy. “There is so much content that it is a difficult course to teach. “
Access to financial literacy courses varies across the United States. One in five students nationwide has access to some type of classroom, Ranzetta said, but the number declines when it comes to schools with fewer white students.
Baldonado said he hoped that if the group’s suggestions were approved by the public education department, teachers could delve into what he called a wide variety of free online educational material on the subject.
“We can make it happen,” he said. “We’re not recreating anything. We do not add additional charges. At the end of the day, we say, “Hey, let’s rethink the economics course, which is already a requirement for graduation, and maybe we’re doing half economy, half personal finance. “”