In terms of financial literacy education, it always helps to have a state governor with close ties to public education. Democrat Tony Evers, in his second term as governor of Wisconsin, entered electoral politics after a career in education. Evers went from being a teacher to being both an elementary and high school principal, and then being district superintendent. After years as a superintendent for different districts, Evers became a statewide education official. Before becoming governor, Evers was elected as the state superintendent of education. Although it is uncommon for state governors to have a background in public education, Evers’ path makes sense, given that public education is the greatest single expenditure for state and local governments in the United States.
As a pro-education governor, Evers has made moves before to strengthen financial literacy skills. In 2021, he signed Executive Order #106 to create the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy and Capability. The council explores and researches the best methods to improve financial literacy of Wisconsin residents, especially K-12 students. The executive order creating the council specifically referenced that only one-third of Wisconsin high schools required students to complete a one-semester personal financial literacy class to graduate. Although Wisconsin still has no law requiring the invaluable class, Governor Evers wants to use $5 million from the state’s budget surplus to help high schools fund financial literacy courses.
$5 Million to Fund “Do the Math” Initiative
Evers’ goal will have to clear a Republican-controlled state legislature, and some are skeptical about offering the grant program without requiring schools to offer a standalone financial literacy class. One Republican who wants to mandate the financial literacy class is Joan Ballweg, whose Assembly Bill 899 would require just that. Unfortunately, AB 899 has stalled in the state Assembly (similar to the House of Representatives). In the absence of a bill mandating the course, it is definitely desirable to have competitive grant money to offer the course as an elective.
Fortunately, Wisconsin seems to be on track to require Personal Financial Literacy for all high school students. The state already requires integrated financial literacy standards, updated in 2017, and many high schools offer the PLF course as an elective. Additionally, Wisconsin’s high school graduation requirements are flexible compared to many other states – only 15 required credits versus over 20 for many others. This means Wisconsin can easily incorporate an additional one-semester, or one-half credit, required course in its curriculum.
Nonprofits like the Wisconsin Financial Literacy Foundation are resources that can be used to assist the implementation of a required PFL course. The state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) also has a webpage devoted to resources that educators can use, including free resources from Jump$tart for Wisconsinites. DFI has also partnered with Voya Financial to offer free resources. University systems, such as the University of Wisconsin system, are also invaluable resources through their Financial Education programs. School districts that do not already have well-developed PFL classes can use any or all of these free resources to get up to speed. And, of course, receiving part of a $5 million grant wouldn’t hurt, either!