The development of a sensitive conscience concerning the existing maladjustments, unfair practices, and positive evils of our economic system should be a vital concern to all Friends.
~ Faith and Practice of Wilmington Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Brian Page, a member of Cincinnati Friends Meeting who teaches personal finance at Reading High School, believes that financial literacy is one of the most important social justice issues of our time. In a world full of economic landmines (such as predatory lending practices) and ever-changing financial products and services, learning how to manage your money is a 21st-century survival skill.
Brian thinks that skill should be taught early. Many teenagers today are tasked with figuring out how much to borrow for college, how to file a tax return, and how to use credit cards responsibly. They cannot wait until later in life to acquire personal financial skills; they are making choices today that will impact their futures—choices often made without the help of informed adults, and that can have compounding consequences on their lives.
In his own classroom, Brian has used some innovative techniques to provide his pupils with financial insights, such as taking them out into the community to visit businesses that provide cash and pay-day loans, letting them see first-hand what happens when people get caught up in these kinds of transactions.
Yet for Brian, reaching only the students he teaches is not enough. He is part of a small but dedicated group that is working with educators and elected officials to make a semester-long class in financial literacy a requirement for graduation from Ohio high schools. They are also working to ensure that these classes are taught by properly trained teachers.
Other members of the team include Dr. Julie Heath, Director of the University of Cincinnati Economic Center; Tom Rutan, who is retired from the Ohio Department of Education; and other educators. The Ohio Bankers League and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce are leading the effort from the private sector to champion the cause.
Senator Steve Wilson (R–7th District) is sponsoring a bill in the Ohio legislature to make a class in financial literacy a graduation requirement. Senator Wilson represents Warren County and parts of Butler and Hamilton County, including Indian Hill and parts of Cincinnati and Loveland.
Brian notes that financial literacy is mandated at the state level as a graduation requirement by only six states. Most schools across the nation are locally controlled, and some, like Reading High School, have strong local requirements. However, outside of the mandating states, only 8% of students are required to pass a semester-long class in financial literacy. At schools in which at least 75% of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, only 3.9% of the students are required to pass such a class.
“Political battles often take place in the world of gray, where the right side of an issue can be unclear," Brian observes, "but not this right of every high school graduate to learn how to manage their own money.”
We all can be a part of bringing financial literacy into the classroom for every high school student in the districts in which we reside. Brian recommends two turn-key resources: