Boston – Credit scores, interest rates, and taxes. Nine out of ten students in Massachusetts don't need to learn about these things. Should countries require financial literacy for students?
When Sean Simonini was a teenager in middle school and high school, he didn't quite get the “hot” buzz.
“So you're thinking about 'The Birds and the Bees,' which is a pretty uncomfortable topic, right? But people feel even more uncomfortable talking to their kids about credit cards!” Simonini said.
Simonini says our schools don't really talk about money either. He was a good student at Billerica High School. He received a full scholarship to attend the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“But I couldn't say anything about taxes,” Simonini said. “I didn't know what a credit score was. What was a 401k?”
So the 19-year-old college sophomore is taking on a mission that began in high school, when Simonini joined the town's school board as a student representative. Recently, he has testified before the state Legislature, pushing a bill that would require independent financial literacy classes for all students in all school districts. Classes and teacher training would be funded by the state, not local communities, in a so-called “financial literacy trust fund.”
“I started thinking about what an education would look like where all students graduate with the skills they need to be successful. One of the first gaps I saw looking at me was this: It was a lack of financial literacy in the Commonwealth,” Simonini said. .
Currently, 25 states have financial literacy as a graduation requirement. Massachusetts is not among them. However, the course is required in neighboring states of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Champlain College in Vermont has a Center for Financial Literacy that annually publishes a report card that evaluates each state's efforts. 29 states earned an “A” or “B.” Massachusetts received an “F.”
why? There are over 300 school districts in our state, but only 16 of them require students to pass a personal finance class.
Simonini says we are setting our children up for a lifetime of debt without knowing the consequences. “We're allowing 18-year-olds to sign off on half a mortgage, hundreds of thousands of dollars in an instant, and we're letting them sign off on a loan that could potentially impact them decades later,” Simonini said. “It doesn't explain at all what the economic impact will be.” He said.
Sue Camparato is a Swampscott teacher who believes Massachusetts is far behind other states. Swampscott is one of the school districts that requires a personal finance class. Camparato teaches students about credit scores, interest rates, stocks, how to save money, and how to file taxes.
“I've never had anyone say, 'When are you going to use this?' Absolutely not,” Camparato said.
One of her students, Sam Snitkowski, says this education is more important than ever. He said children are constantly targeted on sites like TikTok by so-called “money gurus” peddling financial fiction.
“This information does not come from 'user3015' or anything like that. It comes from an actual teacher at the school, so you know the information is true,” Sam said.
Simonini believes our nation's lawmakers mistakenly believe that students are learning about money at home, or in the nearly extinct “home EC” classes. “More than 50% of parents in this country don't feel comfortable talking to their children about money,” Simonini said.
State Treasurer Deb Goldberg heads the state's Office of Financial Empowerment, which offers a number of free, out-of-class programs for everyone from toddlers to seniors. “When we hold a Credit for Life fair for high school students, it's amazing what they don't know,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg also believes financial literacy courses should be mandatory and hopes that lawmakers will address the issue.
Goldberg believes public-private partnerships between Beacon Hill and outside partners will help pay for all district programs. She certainly has hurdles to clear, but she thinks she and Simonini need it. Massachusetts won't get an “F” on the next report card.
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