Op-Ed: Why Parents Can't Be the Only Ones to Teach Our Children About Finance

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Some people oppose school-based financial education because they believe teaching kids about money is the parents' responsibility ― and frankly, it should be. But what about the kids whose parents or guardians don't have the personal finance skills or experience to adequately instruct their children? Where can they go to learn the basics of personal finance?

As we have increasingly turned our attention toward improving financial equity and inclusion, school-based financial education will play an important role in leveling the playing field for future generations of American consumers, particularly those students growing up in historically underserved communities. By introducing these students to a financial system they may not have previously been exposed to, giving them reliable information, and offering them a chance to develop critical thinking skills, we can help prepare them to make smart financial decisions throughout their lives.

Public support is widespread. Eighty-eight percent of adults in a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education said their state should require either a semester or year long financial education course for graduation, and 80% wished they had been required to take a semester or year-long course during high school.

More states are adding requirements, with Georgia earlier this week becoming the latest to mandate a personal finance course in high school. In March, Florida became the largest state to require personal finance in high school.

While financial education in the classroom is crucial for less advantaged students, it is valuable for all. Well-qualified educators, with access to up-to-date curriculum resources, are often best prepared to teach the many facets and continually evolving elements of personal finance. 

The Jump$tart Coalition believes that all students deserve an effective financial education at all school levels. While we enthusiastically applaud the efforts in many states to make financial education a high school graduation requirement, we also believe it must start sooner. Financial education in elementary school – starting even before kindergarten – is essential for young children as they are forming their behaviors and beliefs. And financial education is critical for all middle school students, especially those who are most vulnerable to eventually dropping out of school.

The financial literacy community has never proposed education as the solution to financial well-being in and of itself. Rather, we believe it to be a critical component when paired with equitable access to appropriate products and services, solid consumer protections, and ethical financial professionals. For its part, the community works together ― often through the Jump$tart Coalition ― to provide quality resources and information, teacher training, educational standards, and more, to ensure that the financial education is effective in classrooms across the country.

For parents, then, the responsibility is to teach your kids, if you're able; but more importantly, just talk to them about money, set a good example with your own financial decisions, and make sure that financial education is included in their school's curriculum. Especially since April is Financial Literacy Month, the time is now.

By Laura Levine, President and CEO of Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy

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