Promoting Personal Financial Literacy for Our Students

By: State Rep. Ryan Hamilton – 7/23

Massachusetts is the pinnacle of education in the United States (if not the world) … yet, mounting evidence continues to remind us that we still have much work to do when it comes to preparing our students for successful and secure financial futures. The Commonwealth – especially the Merrimack Valley – is renowned for its institutions of higher education, revered for its knowledge economy, and praised for the talent its schools produce. However, recent studies have highlighted the shortcomings that exist when it comes to personal finance education here in Massachusetts public schools.

Financial institutions affect the lives of every citizen and financial literacy is important to every individual. The fact that these skills, which apply to 100% of residents, are only being thoroughly taught to a fraction of our students, is why I am introducing legislation this session to close the gap.

As of last year, 23 states in the nation have guaranteed that every student will receive education on personal finance topics… Massachusetts is not one of them. Unfortunately, we rank near the bottom of the pack in terms of the breadth and depth of our offerings according to the Survey of the States, evidenced by the fact that only 5.7% of Massachusetts students are ensured a standalone financial literacy course (according to Next Gen Personal Finance).

To our credit, some progress has been made, following a 2018 law from the General Court that has required the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to establish standards for personal finance within the history and social science frameworks.

Yet, this step was just that: a “step” certainly in the right direction, but far from what our students deserve. To understand what more can be done, we need not look further than the Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy:

State: Massachusetts

Grade: C

Needs Improvement: Needs to require high school stand-alone personal finance course and implement grade-specific K-8 financial literacy standards.

Our students deserve better than a “C” especially when it comes to one of the most important skills a school can provide for its students: financial literacy. Let us live up to the claim that we are truly the best state in the nation for education and begin preparing our students with the fundamental tools they need to succeed in this dynamic and evolving world of finance.

The urgency of this need has been echoed by the Massachusetts State Treasurer, Deborah Goldberg. In several separate reports, she and her team have showcased the spotty implementation of financial literacy. Due to the absence of a comprehensive framework at the state level, individual school districts vary greatly in their provision of financial literacy education.

Among the districts in the state, roughly only 2 out of every 5 districts require a personal financial literacy elective to be offered, meaning that up to 60% of school districts are either “teaching” financial literacy in fragmented terms that often fail to amount to a strong understanding of tangible systems among students, or even worse, they simply don’t offer personal finance coursework at all. Although content is important, it is vital for us to recognize that neither scattered standards, nor electives are sufficient to ensure that our graduates – and our future workforce – are universally prepared and economically empowered.

A noteworthy issue, especially for our Gateway Cities in the Merrimack Valley, such as Methuen and Haverhill, is that “Personal financial literacy is not uniform among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, making the need to provide quality PFL education an equity issue.” (Goldberg p. 3).

Ultimately, the provision of a strong financial literacy framework is a matter of having the resources to complete it. Through enshrining this crucial coursework as a promise to every pupil in the Commonwealth, we can break down the socio-economic barriers which are currently barring underserved children from being equipped with the knowledge to attain financial security and prosperity.

Massachusetts is the best state in the nation for education, there is no question about that. But let us not be blinded by our prestige to the very real flaws that persist within our systems. Although work has been done, it is up to us to recognize that there is still much more work that needs to be done.

Fortunately, many of the pieces of this puzzle are already in existence and now is the time to put all of them together. I am proud to be working to fulfill this promise to students all across the state and am looking forward to the conversation that will commence. By bringing parents, educators, district leaders, financial professionals, scholars, and students to the table, we can continue our relentless pursuit of a more perfect union, state, and education system. ◊