In K-12 education, changes happen not just to how or where kids learn, but also to the specific content schools include in their curricula. Administrators, parents, and teachers currently are hotly debating whether money has a place in the core curriculum.
On one side of the argument, critics wonder if teaching kids about money actually influences financial behavior. On the other side, educators, economists, and other researchers have in fact been able to demonstrate the positive influence of teaching kids about money. Students in states with financial education curricula are more likely to save and less likely to pay credit cards late, for instance, and they are also more likely to be banked. Given the mounting evidence that financial education can have a positive influence on money behaviors, and given that people often say they wish they’d learned about money earlier, I believe insisting that financial education receive the same level of support as more traditional core subjects is a necessary and correct choice that can empower students for future success.
A SHIFT TOWARD GOVERNMENTAL FINANCIAL LITERACY SUPPORT
Schools generally have been forced to push financial literacy to the back burner and treat it as nonessential as they try to meet other standards with the little money they have. In 21 states, schools integrate financial coursework into another class. Just seven states require schools to offer a stand-alone finance class. Legislators in 25 states and the District of Columbia introduced financial education bills during the 2022 legislative session. That momentum grew out of the new emphasis on the need for money guidance brought to light by the economic hardships caused by COVID-19.
The new governmental emphasis on including financial literacy in K-12 education demonstrates a rising recognition of the benefits researchers have already demonstrated. Nevertheless, the nation still faces large hurdles. These issues, such as skyrocketing rent and student loan debt, can create serious budget gaps for individuals and families. Providing foundational protections against these additional concerns likely will improve the effectiveness of subsequent financial literacy curricula within public education.
OUR KIDS DESERVE BRIGHT FUTURES
When students leave school, they’re faced with a range of financial tasks, such as reading a paycheck, opening financial accounts, creating and maintaining a budget, and understanding credit. Without financial education, it’s harder to manage these responsibilities, which can harm credit scores. Those lower scores can translate to serious difficulty with getting a mortgage or even getting hired for work. As a result, overall money goals can get further and further out of reach.
Educators also have to acknowledge that finance is a dynamic subject and that not all approaches to financial education will have the same level of effectiveness. Today’s kids need a lot of money knowledge that’s not covered in standard financial classes—for example, they need to know about peer-to-peer payment apps and factors of a cashless society. New apps like Zelle and CashApp are constantly emerging and changing expectations and capabilities. For financial literacy to work, it must move away from lectures and one-off courses in favor of more thorough, digitally inclusive, and continuous lessons over time. It also must be interactive and provide hands-on practice opportunities within a safe, consequence-free environment.
Offering kids the information they need to be financially secure improves the odds they can claim the bright future they deserve. Schools do the best service when they not only teach evergreen, core financial concepts but also monitor the market and integrate new financial developments in real time.
Educational standards largely have been set by individual states in the past, in part because local communities want to be able to control curricula according to the relevant needs they see in their own backyards. That holds true today despite federal-level efforts such as Common Core. One of the biggest issues in financial literacy subsequently is a lack of standardization across the nation. This lack of standardization is problematic because it can mean students don’t achieve the same level of financial preparedness and teachers cannot easily create and share lesson materials from one location to another.
Progress on financial education is slow, but it is happening. The number of states integrating finance content into another class (currently 21) has risen by four since 2018. State-level mandates are improving understanding of topics such as student loans.
Digital financial literacy is more front and center, too. Professionals recognize the growth of fintech. There is increased interest in how factors like income, higher education access, and geography all contribute to digital finance adoption and literacy.
Leaders have to improve these areas to ensure students get the most out of classes. Even so, financial literacy has little partisan opposition. There are also non-profit organizations that can help address costs.
GRASSROOTS EFFORTS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
In the past, financial literacy has been pushed aside within K-12 schools. There has been a lack of agreement about how and what to teach. Critics also legitimately point out that people can’t budget their way through problems like poor social infrastructure and biases.
Even so, researchers have evidence that financial education makes a difference. Because financial education prepares students for the realities they’ll face in the real world and contributes directly to their future success, I believe it deserves to hold the same priority as any other K-12 subject. Getting money taught in schools on a more standardized, national level can start tomorrow through simple, grassroots efforts.
Alice Lee is a Former Educator and Senior Vice President, K-12 Implementation at EVERFI