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Ranzetta: Mass. high schools must embrace personal finance education

Our non-profit organization works with personal finance teachers across the nation, and we are seeing momentum like we’ve never seen before. Twenty-six states introduced financial education bills this year. Ten states now guarantee at least one semester course in personal finance for all students before graduation.

Massachusetts could well be the 11th state. Financial literacy finally is a hot topic in school districts across the state. While a leader in many education priorities, the state lags in access to financial education in high schools. A study we commissioned this year by Montana State University shows that just 4.9% of Massachusetts high school students are guaranteed to take a personal finance course before graduation.

If you are lucky enough to attend Newton North High School or North Attleboro High School or Wilmington High School or 12 other high schools in Massachusetts, you will be guaranteed to take a personal finance course before you graduate. Zip code should not be destiny when it comes to whether or not high school students receive this essential course.

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg issued a report this month in which she said, “Requiring that all Massachusetts schools offer financial education courses is a crucial step in building a more equitable future for our children. Now more than ever, access to these tools should be free and easily available to every student in grades K-12.”

This gap may soon close with a series of bills making their way through the Massachusetts Legislature this fall, led by Sen. Patrick O’Connor, Rep. Sal N. DiDomenico and Treasurer Goldberg. I testified in support of the bills in September, but the words of teachers we’ve worked with offer the strongest call to action.

Jacqueline Collins has been teaching personal finance at Mansfield High School for 16 years, and she sees a sharp increase in demand. “Enrollment in my class has skyrocketed. We have 14 sections this year, and we’ve even added another personal finance course to the catalog. Students want this course, and we should be providing it for them.”

Sara Fass, a personal finance teacher at Boston Day and Evening Academy, notes how the practical nature of her course has translated into student activism to make it a graduation requirement. She says her students not only want the course, but they want all their peers to take it as well, and the students consistently rate it the most meaningful and important class in school.

In states that have made financial education a priority, there are measurable gains in financial knowledge and downstream behaviors like responsible credit card use and avoiding predatory lenders.

Cedric Turner, a personal finance and economics teacher at Brockton High School, sees the importance of combining financial education with economic thinking. “We teach them together for a full-year course. These topics need to be emphasized now more than ever because global economic influences are finding their way into our decisions about education, spending, borrowing, career planning, saving, investing and more.”

By adding this requirement in all high schools, the state stands to benefit another way. Financial education can help close the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts, according to a report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The report says such education would lead to $25 billion in gains to the state economy over five years.

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