Efforts aim to boost financial literacy in schools

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Kids and money

The goal of increasing Americans' alarmingly low financial literacy got a boost on May 10, when the White House held its first-ever summit on financial capability and empowerment. The summit, which was an initiative of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, included discussions that targeted a whole range of populations that could benefit from a strong focus on financial literacy, from elementary school students up through current workers and retirees.

The AFT is supporting the council's efforts, and AFT president Randi Weingarten attended the summit. She wrote about the importance of the issue in a recent Huffington Post column. "Knowledge is power," Weingarten writes, "and in the case of financial education, knowledge is economic power, perhaps even economic destiny. Individuals, families, employers, communities and schools all have roles to play in ensuring that a secure economic destiny is available to all."

Too often, she notes, Americans get their financial education the hard way—when trouble arises. "Whether it's realizing too late that they don't have the money to pay for college, or amassing huge college or credit card debt, or getting overextended on a mortgage—many people find themselves stuck in an economic nightmare from which it is hard to wake up."

One of the goals of the president's council is to give financial literacy a more prominent place in school curricula. But, as Weingarten points out, only a small minority of teachers feel adequately prepared to teach personal finance topics. "Financial education should be incorporated into curricula in relevant and meaningful ways," she urges. "Educators should be included in efforts to develop standards and implement curricula and training. At a time when our schools are being asked to do much more with much less, school systems must allow adequate time and resources for this important focus."

Another challenge is finding high-quality materials that teach about personal finance in objective ways, without promoting financial products or ideologies. The White House, along with the U.S. Treasury Department, has taken steps to fill that void by developing some new resources.

One is a website called Money as You Grow. Developed by the president's council, the site provides 20 essential, age-appropriate financial lessons—with corresponding activities—that kids need to learn.

In conjunction with the summit, the White House also released a financial capability toolkit, which it describes as a guide for increasing financial capability among students, workers and residents in communities. Among the customized toolkits are versions for K-12 education and for higher education. [Dan Gursky, Huffington Post]

May 15, 2012