Teach teens about dollars and sense

It’s no secret that too many young adults struggle with money issues. From the high cost of higher education, to getting that first apartment or home, to managing student loan debtit is increasingly tough for average American young people to balance their personal budgets.

That’s why it is wise for youth to get an early start on understanding finances.

State Rep. Hōdan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, has introduced a bill that would do just that. The proposed legislation would add a personal finance course to the list of graduation requirements for Minnesota high schoolers. It’s a good idea for teens to have a strong foundation from which to make financial decisions as they embark upon their adult lives.

In discussing the bill, Hassan has used herself as an example of why it matters. She recently told the House Education policy committee that she immigrated to the US from Somalia more than 20 years ago and finished high school here without learning anything about finances. Then she went to college and quickly got into difficulties with debt.

Hassan’s bill would modify state graduation requirements by requiring students to complete a personal finance course for credit during their senior year of high school and a course in government and citizenship in their junior or senior year of high school.

The personal finance course would include but not be limited to explaining household budgeting; the mechanics of loans, debt and interest; home mortgages; file taxes; student loan debt; and understanding paychecks and payroll deductions.

The requirements would go into effect for teens beginning in ninth grade in the 2023-2024 school year. Current law only encourages that civics be taught, and there is no requirement that students take a stand-alone financial course.

But there should be — in part because of the large gap between communities of color and the majority white population in employment, income, homeownership and other wealth indicators. Requiring financial education could help to narrow those gaps.

Studies about general financial literacy show that many adults in all age groups are also struggling. As a result, many parents aren’t in a position to teach financial responsibility to their children. Students of all backgrounds should be exposed to basic economic education while they’re in school.

Requiring students to learn about personal finances will help them make better choices about what they can or cannot afford as they make decisions about higher education or setting up their own households.

In support of the bill, Tim Ranzetta, of Next Gen Personal Finance, said his organization has worked with about 1,300 Minnesota teachers and with educators in other states that require personal finance courses. He said just over 6% of Minnesota students are currently guaranteed the opportunity to learn about personal finance, and that if Minnesota adopts the requirement it would be become the 11th state to do so.

James Redelsheimer, an economics teacher at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School who teaches a personal finance course, told legislators that many of his students’ parents say they wished they had had a similar course in school. He supports the measure because the course teaches skills that can help “break the cycle of poverty and build generational wealth.”

During legislative testimony last month, representatives of several education groups said the bill is “too prescriptive.” Though they believe that financial education is important, they object to it being required and think decisions about the courses are best made at the local level. Several Republican lawmakers on the committee shared that view.

However, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, is on board with the effort. A former teacher who has long supported requiring civic educationUrdahl says it’s important to make both personal finance and civics education graduation requirements.

“Though many Minnesota schools offer some form of financial education (sometimes within another course), that doesn’t mean students are taking it,” he told an editorial writer. “If we believe that this is important and should be learned by our students, we need to require it.”

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