High school finance courses pay dividends

Investing School
There are 17 states that require students to study at least some personal finance. Pennsylvania isn’t one of them; New Jersey and Delaware are.

Could Pennsylvania pass a mandate to teach personal finance in high schools?

Currently 17 states require students to study at least some personal finance - including Delaware and New Jersey - but not Pennsylvania.

Teachers who have taken excellent courses like the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's Teacher Training in personal finance love the idea.

Chuck Deal teaches students basic business in the Neshaminy School District and is helping the state's Department of Education come up with standards for personal-finance classes statewide.

"One big complaint among my students is 'When am I going to use this?' Never, ever, has a student said, 'When am I going to use personal finance?' My students don't understand checking accounts, overdraft fees, even ATM fees, the basics."

He teaches "Keys to Financial Success," a course made available by the Philadelphia Fed.

It has made an impression on students.

One young lady came to visit Deal recently and told him that "she saved her notes from my class, got her act together, bought a house, and attributed it to what she learned. She would have been floundering, because she didn't learn it from her parents."

What about the rest of the U.S.? Should a personal-finance course be mandatory for all students?

That's the question that the Council on Economic Education addresses Monday at a panel at the Arts Ballroom, 1324 Locust St. in Center City, titled "Financial Literacy: Is Your State Part of the Problem or the Solution?"

Those attending will be delegates and political types in town for the Democratic National Convention. The council held a similar panel last week at the Republican convention.

Early-bird education on economics and personal finance has all kinds of positive benefits - including better credit scores and less delinquency on credit cards and car and student loans, according to a January 2015 study by FINRA, Wall Street's broker regulator.

Three states - Georgia, Idaho, and Texas - adopted curricula for personal finance. High school students had to take a course in order to graduate, according to Nan Morrison, president and CEO of the host Council for Economics Education. Credit scores improved.

And without the basics of personal finance, students have a hard time handling more complex issues such as free trade or investing in stocks and bonds for retirement.

"The teachers who have taken the Fed's or the Council for Economic Education's programs really see a benefit among high school juniors and seniors," Deal says.

And they will need it, because many will borrow significant sums for college education.

Another of his students just decided not to go into debt for college. "He didn't want to graduate with $75,000 in loans, so he went to community college instead."

Parents and grandparents "all would like personal finance to be required in school. They are a driving force behind my classes being so popular."

Another obstacle: States are scared of taking on unfunded mandates. Currently, teachers can take courses at the Philadelphia Fed, for professional credit, for about $60.

The CEE also offers materials for the classroom. "Our mission is to teach students about personal finance and economics - vital skills in a democracy," says CEE's Morrison.

"We are not the silver bullet in solving poverty, but we're an arrow in the quiver," she adds.

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Tim Reese has a finance background. He was managing partner of Forge Intellectual Capital and served on the advisory board of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Surely, he can get behind personal-finance classes in high school.

Free Lessons. The Philadelphia Fed offers one-day, three-evening, and weeklong professional-development programs to equip K-12 teachers with the knowledge to instruct economics and personal finance. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, teachers also can earn professional-development credit.

To register and for information, go to the Philadelphia Fed site (https://www.philadelphiafed.org/education/teachers).

Even if you aren't a teacher, you can find lesson plans and download them for free. (For the offerings, click on "Lesson Plans.")

The St. Louis Federal Reserve also has a curriculum available to anyone, called "Cards, Cars and Currency," focused on credit cards, debit cards, and purchasing a car, available for download at its website (www.stlouisfed.org/education).

Finally, EconomicsPa.org's Sarah Vannatta bravely offered to email anyone who contacts her for free curriculum materials (svannatta@economicspa.org).

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808@erinarvedlund