Bill would bring financial literacy into the classroom

From left, seniors Josh Gallagher, Jack Amari and Jackson Bailey suggested the high school hold a Credit for Life Fair after attending a similar financial literacy event at another school. (COURTESY NORTH MIDDLESEX SCHOOL DISTRICT)

North Middlesex Regional High School recently hosted a school fair with real flair, a joint effort between students, teachers and administrators.

School Superintendent Brad Morgan said collaboration created the inaugural Credit for Life financial literacy grant for seniors.

The April 10 event gave students the opportunity to learn about a topic not covered in class: the ins and outs of personal finance.

“We are so pleased to be able to offer our students an immersive financial literacy education. It is a topic that is extremely relevant and important to these students,” said Superintendent Morgan.

Seniors Jackson Bailey, Jack Amari and Josh Gallagher proposed the idea in December after the three students attended a similar event at another high school.

The fair’s organizers received $5,350 in government funding through an FC:104 Financial Literacy Planning and Implementation Grant.

The grant program provides funding to schools to select and develop materials, curricula, professional development and in-person or virtual learning related to financial literacy. STEM Director Kevin Cormier assisted in the grant preparation and writing and coordinated the project.

The exercise became an extension of the students’ Civics Action Project, where their research revealed a lack of financial literacy among students statewide.

At the fair, students were first allocated a monthly income. They then visited stations of local banks and businesses, and made financial decisions based on their income. Topics covered included insurance, transport, savings and pensions, career advice, luxury, mobile phone contracts and education.

And because of the success of the fair, the organizers have decided to make it an annual event.

We applaud the work of the students, teachers and administrators who put this program together, and for tailoring it to seniors who will soon be making some important financial decisions, whether it’s paying for college or another life choice.

But instead of doing this just once a year in April, which happens to be National Financial Literacy Month, shouldn’t this subject be taught in the state’s public high schools throughout the school year?

We are not the only ones who have this opinion. A prominent state official said this in a recent letter to the editor on the newspaper’s opinion page.

Alayna Van Tassel, deputy state treasurer and executive director of the Office of Economic Empowerment, stated that requiring schools to offer personal financial literacy courses would be a critical step in achieving economic stability and security throughout their lives.

It would give every student, regardless of background, race, or income level, an equal opportunity to thrive and prosper.

She also noted that our state does not have a school curriculum dedicated to financial literacy, pointing out that Massachusetts is not one of the 25 states that currently guarantee this type of education.

In fact, in the Champlain College 2023 National Report Card on High School Financial Literacy, Massachusetts earned the dubious distinction of being one of only five states to receive an ‘F’ grade. This means that we have virtually no requirements for PFL in secondary school.

That’s a shortcoming we’ve also pointed out previously, as Massachusetts has dropped the emphasis on financial literacy on this particular report since at least 2017.

In summary, Ms. Van Tassel describes the obvious benefits of understanding the financial aspects that intersect with our daily lives as we mature.

Students who receive this education are more likely to save, budget, invest, and increase their credit scores.

The longer we wait to implement it, the longer it will take for our state’s youth to see the benefits. Massachusetts has always been a leader in education, innovation and social progress. But when it comes to financial education, we are woefully behind.

She concluded by saying this is unacceptable and must change.

A bill currently before the Legislature would do much of what the deputy state treasurer proposed.

That legislation, titled “An Act Concerning Personal Financial Literacy,” which was introduced last fall by State Rep. Ryan Hamilton, would provide students with a good education in personal finance before they enter college and adulthood.

The bill would create a Financial Literacy Trust Fund, which would be administered by the Department of Primary and Secondary Education. The fund would target underserved communities where students are unlikely to have basic financial literacy, and would be used for professional development training, the purchase and use of financial education resources, and collaboration with higher education institutions.

“Far too many of our young people enter life after high school with limited education about basic financial skills and habits,” said Rep. Hamilton, a Democrat from Methuen, in a Jan. 18 statement. “…I want Massachusetts to lead the way in education – including financial literacy – where we are currently falling behind.”

His bill has since been rewritten as Senate Bill s2665, which passed the Education Committee earlier this month and is now before the Ways and Means Committee.

We urge our local State House delegations to stand behind this bill and convince their other colleagues of the need for this type of common sense education to be taught in our public schools.