Minnesota students will learn more about dollars, sense

This column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during August, 2023
Minnesota Students will Study Dollars, Sense 

This is an example of Minnesota at its best. A statewide inclusive coalition convinced the 2023 Minnesota State Legislature that before graduating, Minnesota high school students must pass a course in financial literacy. Legislators listened, in part because the coalition presented such a compelling case.

Supporters showed that students and the public wanted this. They documented that, done right, financial literacy courses have a significant positive impact. And they have readily available a variety of materials, many of them free, to assist teachers, students and families.

Steve Lear, of St. Louis Park, one of the co-chairs of the financial literacy coalition, told me that after 42 years of providing financial counseling to individuals and families, he became involved because he “wanted to see a brighter future.”

P.J. Wiggin, Forest Lake Area High School teacher and president of the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies, praised the group that proposed the legislation. It includes educators, community members, businesspeople and students from throughout the state.

This coalition’s work is a model of how to get things done.

The new high school graduation requirement goes into effect beginning with ninth graders in the 2024-25 school year. Some of the research and personal testimony that they gathered is found here.  Here are a few examples of what’s in that packet:

• A 2022 poll of Minnesotans showing that 86% wanted this new graduation requirement to be a legislative priority.

• Research showing that graduates of high schools with guaranteed financial education are 21% less likely to carry a balance on a credit card while in college.

• Research showing graduates at high schools with financial literacy courses use subsidized student loans 13% more often than their peers without guaranteed financial education, thus saving an average of $1,300 in debt.

• A letter from Jason Kley, Bloomington, and Steve Lear, co-chairs of the Financial Literacy Coalition, outlining many benefits not only to individuals, but also to Minnesota, of requiring a financial literacy course. This includes potentially spending less on financial assistance as more people “have the skills to achieve financial stability.”

• Testimony from students, including 2019 St. Louis Park High School graduate Alejandro Caceres-Aranda. Now at Minnesota State, Mankato, he wrote: “Once I began my college journey, I realized that I wasn’t as well-equipped as I thought I was going to be for the next four years of college. Most of it stemmed from a lack of financial literacy, something I didn’t learn in school, nor at home.”

• Research compiled by Julie Bunn, formerly a college professor, now the executive director of the Minnesota Council on Economic Education. MCEE has a vast array of resources for families, educators, and students, many of them free, here.  This includes free online games that elementary, middle and high school youngsters and their families can play to help develop more understanding of how to handle money wisely.

Montana State University professor Carly Urban, who’s studied “best practices” in financial literacy training, told me, “Hands-on, active learning is becoming a more and more effective way to teach any topic, and financial literacy is no exception.” Her research is here.

James Redelsheimer is an award-winning teacher at Robbinsdale Area Schools’ Armstrong High School. He wrote that when he tells parents about topics he covers in his class — such as budgeting, credit, savings, investing and IRA’s — “I couldn’t tell you how many times parents respond with, ‘I wish I had learned that in high school.’” His column is here.

Bunn, Kley and Lear praised legislators, including chief authors state Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, and Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, for working closely with them.

Years ago I taught a course, “Protect Your Rights and Money,” in which students studied these issues and solved many of the hundreds of financial cases that adults referred to them. Former students tell me it was, as one put it, “incredibly valuable.”

Redelsheimer explained, “A comprehensive personal finance education prepares students to confront our society’s greatest sources of financial hardship … before they encounter them in the ‘school of hard knocks.’ “

Thanks to this terrific coalition, and legislators who listened, I think we’ll see the “brighter future” that Lear hopes for.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org