Data is often pretty dismal when it comes to financial literacy in the United States (and worldwide). Many people, young and old, often lack basic knowledge about interest rates, budgeting, debt management, and investing. Fortunately, this may change over time now that more states have improved their financial literacy education policies. This improvement is visualized in The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy, which just released its third annual report card. Produced by the American Public Education Foundation, the report card includes a map of the country that lets viewers quickly see how their respective states stack up against others in terms of K-12 financial literacy education.
In the 2023-24 report card, a majority of U.S. states and territories have a “B” or an “A” when it comes to financial literacy education. However, there is still a sizable chunk (35 percent) of U.S. territory that has a “C” or lower; 4 states still have an “F” score. The 65 percent of states and territories scoring a “B” or higher is a tremendous increase from only a few years ago when barely 30 percent met this mark.
Report Card Helps Public Visualize the Issue Quickly
The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy is a valuable tool in the public policy struggle to improve laws and policies around K-12 financial literacy education. Proponents of bills requiring high school students to complete a one-semester Personal Financial Literacy (PFL) class to graduate can use the report card’s map to highlight how their respective states may lag compared to others. When it can be pointed out that other states, especially nearby states, have a higher score on the subject, more state legislators will be persuaded to back “gold standard” PFL bills.
The map forces state legislators and governors to confront the fact that they may not be keeping up with nearby states and thus risk losing residents as people move to states with better educational reputations. Families and businesses consider many factors, including the education landscape, when deciding to move. If two states are similarly situated, but one has a much stronger reputation for financial literacy education for high school students, families are likely to choose to move to the state where their teens will become financially savvy.
Data Places Positive Pressure on States to Improve
Peer pressure is often criticized as harmful, but sometimes it can be beneficial. No state wants to be seen as uncompetitive compared to its [regional] peers, and the data in The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy will force several stubborn states to improve their policies. For example, South Dakota has an “F” but is direct to the southwest of Wisconsin, which has an “A”. Side-by-side on a map, that generates considerable peer pressure to pass a bill to improve South Dakota’s K-12 financial literacy education!
Even more powerful of a visual is Washington, D.C., whose “F” score is surrounded by states with “A”s and “B”s. And does Alaska, which also trails with an “F,” want to be seen as less educationally proficient than a majority of states in the “lower 48”? It would be hard to look at the visual as a state legislator or education executive and not desire to act quickly.