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Are we teaching our children how to handle their finances? That depends on where you live. Only 17 states in the U.S. require middle school or high school students to take a personal finance course. Sadly, our own state of Louisiana does not require a personal finance course. In fact, Louisiana does not even require a course in economics. Some experts agree that this lack of financial training is setting our students up for financial hardship or even failure as they move into adulthood.

Some perspective: We are still requiring students to take courses such as geometry, chemistry and algebra, but very rarely are students mandated to learn how to balance a checkbook, create a budget or understand the basics of investing. Essential life skills related to personal finance are low on the priority list in most states.

That is unfortunate, since studies now show that those students who do takes personal finance courses have a leg up on those who do not. The Council for Economic Education is a non-profit organization with the mission of teaching American students about economics and finance. Last year, the Council released results of research that indicate states that include required finance courses in their curricula elevate the rates at which individuals save and accumulate wealth during their adult lives. The research results show the obvious: Students who are required to take finance courses engage in financially responsible behaviors such as saving, budgeting, and investing. Results show 93 percent of students who have taken a finance class save money, and 60 percent have a budget plan.

The U. S. Department of Education does not mandate specific finance or economics course requirements, and most states have not taken aggressive steps to include these disciplines in their curricula. That means that for now, grass roots efforts among concerned citizens may be the best way to encourage the addition of these types of courses. If you have children or grandchildren in the school system, here is what you can do:

  • Do some research into the finance curricula of states that have already mandated these courses be included. Find out what they are teaching. (The most recent state to adjust its curriculum is New Jersey, where finance classes are required starting this coming semester)
  • Visit the Council for Economic Education to learn how to advocate for the students in your district. The Council’s online “tool kit” offers resources and policy recommendations that may be applicable to your state.
  • Move toward including other parents and grandparents in your advocacy effort by working with parent/teacher organizations, school officials and school boards.

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