In Montana, the state governor wants to help boost high school graduates’ real-world skills. Republican Greg Gianforte, in a proposal unveiled on Thursday, January 12, announced that he wanted both a personal financial literacy class and a civics class to be requirements for high school graduation. As in other states, the personal financial literacy class would be a one-semester course. However, unlike other states, Montana may be able to implement the new courses without passing a new law. Gianforte believes existing laws allow the state Department of Education to act independently, speeding up the process of making a required personal financial literacy class at the high school level a reality.
Governor’s Initiative Supported by State Educators
Fortunately, the governor is not alone in trying to make a required personal financial literacy class happen. The state Superintendent wants to improve financial literacy education in the state, expanding from the eight Montana high schools that currently require a financial literacy course to the other 165 public high schools. A presentation to the state board of education by professor Carly Urban during the summer of 2022 urged the creation of a required, standalone financial literacy class.
Educators at Montana State University support the governor’s initiative, touting the benefits of financial literacy for high school and college graduates. Fortunately, other groups are backing the governor’s goals as well: the Montana Financial Education Coalition brings together multiple nonprofits, businesses, and volunteers to help educate Montanans on financial literacy. This organization also provides scholarships to send teachers to financial literacy training! The Montana Council on Economic Education is another group of pro-finance educators, which even puts on a scholarship (first place team cash prize of $500) as part of the Montana Personal Finance Challenge.
Both the University of Montana and Montana State University have financial education programs for their students, including assistance in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These resources could easily be extended to high school seniors, especially as a module in a personal financial literacy class for seniors. Currently, Montana has many school districts with less than a 50 percent completion rate on FAFSA for high school seniors, indicating a potential area for improvement through financial literacy education. Overall, the state has a “D” score in financial literacy education from the American Public Education Foundation.
The move to create a standalone personal financial literacy class is a bold step, as Montana currently does not have a strong level of personal finance embedded in other courses. Many other states have slowly increased their financial literacy education over time by embedding parts of it in other courses, such as math classes or high school economics classes. While embedded financial skills are helpful, they are far from a standalone class that will teach students in-depth topics and skills. Hopefully, Montana’s path toward better financial literacy education for high school students proceeds straight to a standalone course and does not get diverted into embedded standards in other courses.