Students told lawmakers that financial literacy courses should not be reserved for privileged districts urging them to make the classes a graduation requirement.
BOSTON – On the question of financial literacy among high school students, Massachusetts, usually a leader in education, earned a big fat F along with California, Connecticut, South Dakota and the District of Columbia.
The grade, according to dozens of students who attended the Joint Committee on Education hearing Wednesday afternoon, was given by the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy based on its 2023 National Report Card on High School Financial Literacy.
Students from across the state insisted that Massachusetts is better and urged lawmakers who attended the hearing to require high school students to take a financial literacy class in order to graduate.
Daniel Mara, a Worcester native, pointed out that nearly 75% of all graduates in the state don’t know how to prepare their taxes, don’t know how to open an individual retirement account or even get insurance. plan, according to a survey. held by the Central Massachusetts Regional Student Advisory Council, where he served as communications coordinator while a student at Saint Paul Diocesan Junior-Senior High School.
During her time at the private school, Mara said no personal finance courses were offered at home. While the school has added one as an elective since, it was too late for the freshman, who is now at Emerson College. He said students should learn about personal finance in school rather than through social media posts, online tutorials and other sources that may not be as authentic and informative.
“Worcester as an urban community needs financial literacy standards to ensure students learn to adapt to our changing economy,” Mara said, noting that financial literacy is a tool to improve one’s life and financial outlook and a way to escape generational poverty.
Two students who attend Milton Academy noted that while they enjoy financial literacy classes, they should not be reserved for districts with privileged students. This is a matter of fairness, they say, and should be a basic right for all students.
Javen Diaz, 18, of Chelsea, said he realized early in his childhood that financial instability affects the entire family. Being able to navigate banking rules and regulations, learning how credit cards work and the importance of having a good credit score can improve the quality of people’s daily lives.
“It makes a difference,” Diaz said.
Many students followed suit, one after another, urging lawmakers to support the measure.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Hamilton, D-Methuen, would make the course mandatory for graduation in every “school district, charter school, approved private day school or residential school or collaborative school that serves students in grades 9 through 12 and must conform to the standard promulgated by the board of elementary and secondary education.”
For high school seniors, it’s just timing
Timing is important. Daniel Darius O’Connor, a student representative from Billerica, said. High school seniors are ready for adulthood, about to make important financial decisions that will impact life, such as how and when to finance college and how to understand student loans, credit cards and banking, he said.
Having a good foundation in financial understanding can mean the difference between living financially stable or living in poverty, trapped in mounting loan debt and endless student loans.
“The Legislature can change that,” O’Connor said. “Half the country (27 states require financial literacy courses as a condition for graduation) has already implemented the requirement.”
Sean Simonini, a student at UMass Lowell, said 57% of parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about finances. For students from low-income families, a personal finance course can help bridge the knowledge gap between what their parents teach them and actual financial literacy.
“Currently only 5.7% of students in Massachusetts have access to a financial literacy course,” Simonini said, noting that 17 districts out of 351 offer the course. Worcester is one of the districts that offers personal finance courses for high school students.
Two juniors from Framingham spoke about their growth in financial literacy through their roles as student representatives.
Jordan Cohen, the finance director for the Massachusetts Association of Student Representatives, learned to write checks, open a bank account and read a ledger in his paper. Through experience, he realized the importance of financial literacy, especially among students in his district where 56% are from low-income families and 70% are high-need students.
“People need to learn how to manage their finances, know how to pay off their loans without struggling with decades of debt,” Cohen said. He reminded lawmakers that it is their responsibility to set graduation requirements and give young Massachusetts residents more chances to succeed.
His classmate, William Jjuunko, a native of Uganda, said financial education allows young adults to avoid pitfalls and financial difficulties.
Financial agencies encourage the requirement
Adults representing financial institutions and other agencies that offer financial literacy services also spoke in favor of establishing a graduation requirement.
Rockland Trust’s Julie Beckham began her career in finance wearing green and visiting schools where she sang and danced as Miss Money, telling young people about the benefits of financial literacy. During her time as Miss Money, she visited 150 schools and saw 80,000 young people.
“We’re not going to graduate students who can’t read, but we’re going to graduate students who can’t read their pay stubs, open a checking or savings account, negotiate an auto loan, understand a lease,” he said. Beckham. “It’s not financially secure.”
Beckham told lawmakers that school officials are interested in the idea, but the incentive needs to come from the top. “They’re busy running their districts, teaching their classes,” Beckham said.
Adam Cole, a math teacher at Needham High School, teaches a financial literacy course to his students.
In support of the measure, Cole suggested that teenagers learning to drive should not be allowed behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle without proper preparation. Why, he asked, does Massachusetts allow students to graduate and enter a world full of financial risks without proper preparation?
Americans, he said, are struggling with $1 trillion in credit card debt.
“Financial decisions have consequences that last a lifetime,” Cole said.