FINANCIAL LITERACY: Push For More Education

During his Condition of the State address, Governor Branstad praised a financial education course for freshmen at the University of Northern Iowa. He gave it credit for reducing the amount of debt students carry when they graduate.

The average Regents institution grad owes $27,000.

Some people say students should know everything they need to know about money before they graduate from high school.

For nine years, State Representative Dawn Pettingill has been pushing the same bill.

Spurred on by the recession and shocked at the credit card offers her own jobless teenage son was receiving Pettingill introduced a new law.  It would require Iowa high school students to take one semester of financial literacy education.

A similar class is offered at Des Moines East High School.  It teaches students how to avoid the pitfalls of debt, how to stick to a budget, navigate insurance and investments, and hopefully build wealth and stability.

Samy El-Baroudi makes his East students understand the decisions they make in the few years after high school will affect the rest of their lives and the health of our nation`s economy.

“I think it`s absolutely vital.  It`s absolutely vital.  If we want to have a strong state, if we want to have a strong country,” El-Baroudi says.

Iowa lawmakers dubbed financial literacy a “21st century skill.”  Districts can integrate it a much or as little as they choose, and it turns out most students could use more of it.

“We`d rather see kids at a 75, 80 percent correct on that assessment, but 52 is what we`re getting right now,” Jill Janes

Jane works for a company that recently tested more than 2,000 Iowa students on financial knowledge.  They scored 36% for debt decision making, 37% for investing & asset building and 63% for risk management for a solid “F.”

“The patterns that we`re seeing in society are concerning because those same patterns will probably be repeated by their children unless that`s something that the schools take on and we try to educate our students with,” Janes says.

So, who would be against one required semester of learning how to use the money they`ll have to use every day?

“Our opposition to the bill is not an opposition to financial literacy.  It`s an opposition to the legislature telling districts how to achieve the result of financial literacy,” Galen Howsare explains.

Howsare is in charge of a lot of money.  He`s the chief financial officer at the Iowa Association of School Boards.  He says the legislature has already heaped enough other requirements on local districts.

“Given the fact that we haven`t really expanded the school day it becomes difficult for schools to achieve what`s already identified for curriculum,” Howsare says.

Mr. El-Baroudi proves that they can learn.

East High senior Blake Sunkle says he`s saving, avoiding credit cards and being wise about college loans.  These are concepts past generations would have learned from their parents but they haven`t.

And Howsare says it`s fallen on schools to teach it.

“We`re not saying we`re not going to accept that responsibility, but we need to have the greatest flexibility given all the things that have been passed to schools to try and achieve with students,” Howsare says.

Compared to our neighboring states, Iowa’s in the middle of the pack.  Illinois doesn’t require anything regarding financial literacy.  Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have some guidelines and suggestions.  But Missouri is one of just six states that require a course to be offered, that students take it, and that they pass a test before they can graduate.



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