Pandemic Drives Push to Teach About Finances in School

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That’s how many states have introduced legislation this year to boost financial education in school, reflecting a new push after the crush of the pandemic highlighted how critical it can be. 

The state bills propose a range of measures from establishing task forces and teaching standards to adding courses and high school graduation requirements, according to Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), a nonprofit that provides free resources to teach personal finance. While most states see finance being taught to high schoolers, two states—Maryland and Illinois—are looking to start that education even younger, in middle school.

The bills reflect a renewed focus on better equipping people to handle financial challenges, but also on making access to resources more equitable. The COVID-19 outbreak shut down businesses around the world, triggering the largest U.S. job losses since the end of World War II and upending many people’s finances, particularly minority and low-income communities. As part of efforts to help people climb out of the financial hole left by COVID-19, President Joe Biden recently declared that April, already National Financial Literacy Month, would also be recognized as National Financial Capability Month.

While there’s no guarantee these bills will come to fruition, “it's nice to have so many irons in the fire,” NGPF founder Tim Ranzetta wrote in an email. The group has never tracked such legislation before, but said many state leaders have called the amount of activity unprecedented. 

Currently, most U.S. adults don’t even score a passing grade on a financial literacy test, according to the TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index. On average, between 49% and 52% of the 28 questions on a financial literacy quiz were answered correctly in each of the past five years. This year, 3,035 U.S. adults took the quiz online in January.