While the Wisconsin State Assembly struggles with what is more important—financial literacy or gun safety—indications are that lawmakers are moving in the right direction.
The assembly has unanimously passed a bill, which for the first time would require that public schools integrate financial literacy instruction into the K-12 curriculum. If a similar bill gets through the Senate, which insiders say is likely; Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign it into law. This could all happen by fall.
The goal is to give students essential financial skills and help them avoid excessive debt and other financial problems, supporters say. “We want to pull out all the stops to help raise the financial acumen for everybody in Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Bankers Association executive vice president Michael Semmann told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The Bankers association is part of a coalition of financial institutions supporting the bill.
Wisconsin has a mixed track record when it comes to teaching kids about money. The state’s ranking on this front has improved in recent years. But Wisconsin still lags badly in terms of offering and requiring economic or personal finance classes, according to the Council for Economic Education.
A dissenting voice came from the Department of Public Instruction, which expressed concern that some school districts might end up doing only the minimum amount to meet the state’s requirements and thus be both a time drain and ineffective.
Financial education in the state is now a patchwork of programs that vary from school to school. In 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction established financial literacy standards. Some school districts followed that lead and provided special training for teachers to integrate financial education into math and social studies.
Some 74% of the state’s 400 school districts provide some kind of financial education instruction with 60% offering it before high school. More than 100 schools have partnered with banking institutions to sponsor on-campus student-run credit union branches to give youth real-life financial experience.
Even so, millions of Wisconsin students have been left out of the financial literacy push. Many schools lack the resources to incorporate robust financial education classes.
Assemblymen Scott Krug and Jason Fields believe their financial literacy bill gives schools more latitude when it comes to how they incorporate financial lessons. They don’t have to develop their own curriculum and can use turnkey programs from banks and other sources to cut expenses. Some worry that bank programs may be self-serving. But schools have plenty of third-party programs to choose from. This all bodes well for the financial future of Wisconsin’s students.