When you are looking to succeed in a new endeavor, it is good to have a model for aspiring to. Regarding high school financial education, OneMain Financial has declared that model to be the state of Tennessee. This southeastern state requires all students at public high schools to pass a personal financial literacy class to graduate. Like other financial institutions, OneMain Financial rates this as the gold standard of high school financial education. It also credited states whose education standards explicitly required financial education as part of other courses, such as Economics. States could also rise in the ranking while lacking explicit education standards about financial literacy if they had bills under consideration in their legislatures about the matter.
Tennessee Sets Personal Financial Education Model
While 2022 saw almost 70 financial education bills under consideration in 27 state legislatures, Tennessee has required high school graduates to complete a Personal Finance class since 2013! Beginning with incoming freshmen in the fall of 2009, the requirement has remained firm, and, fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education helped get the ball rolling with a $1.7 million grant. Going beyond other states with Personal Financial Literacy classes, Tennessee requires its teachers of the subject to get 14 hours of professional development.
And students are helping push for more financial education in other states. A new documentary released by Next Gen Personal Finance shows five teens working on expanding financial education in their respective states: Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, and New Mexico. Although states like Maryland and Wisconsin have financial literacy standards written into their general curriculum, neither state requires high schools to offer a specific Personal Financial Literacy class…yet.
Fortunately, movement in Wisconsin appears to be positive toward requiring such a class. About a third of Wisconsin high schoolers attend a school where a Personal Financial Literacy class is mandatory, and another 59 percent attend a school that offers such a course as an elective. In early 2022, three high school students spoke in favor of making the course mandatory for all high school students at a meeting of the Assembly Education Committee.
Washington is a little further behind the curve, but its legislature passed a law in 2022 requiring districts to adopt financial education goals beginning next spring. One of the three listed options is to offer more financial education classes to high school students. Maryland has made similar moves in 2022, with districts being required to study the issue of increasing financial literacy education. New Mexico currently has only a few high schools that require students to take a Personal Financial Literacy course, and the state does not require financial literacy components within its K-12 curriculum. As a result, the state is ranked near the bottom of the 50 states in financial literacy!
Fortunately, Senate Bill 177 was a 2022 effort to make some personal financial literacy a requirement for high school graduation in New Mexico. Although the bill did not go to the governor’s desk, the state’s Public Education Department created 33 financial education standards this year. Many in the state are looking forward to more students learning about personal finance in upcoming years, expanding on the approximately 11 percent of New Mexico high school students who had taken a Personal Financial Literacy course during the 2019-2020 school year.