A bill in the Ohio legislature that holds great promise for the financial future of students in the state lies dormant for now, which means at least one more class of Ohio students will miss out on fundamental money lessons that would help them get a firmer start in life.
The bill, which I helped champion, would require high school students in Ohio to pass a stand-alone, semester-long course on personal finance. It became cluttered and unfocused, and ultimately failed to address the key issue of establishing a stand-alone course. The effort is not dead; my hope is that a new bill will be unveiled in the spring session–one that directly calls for a stand-alone course and is not weighed down with other provisions that some lawmakers might find off-putting.
Ohio needs such a bill. I have used my standing in the state as an award-winning financial literacy teacher and notable advocate for financial education to push for a dedicated one-semester personal finance course. I testified before the Ohio House Education Committee in support of the bill, which passed easily. I was part of team that included retired Ohio Department of Education official Tom Rutan and Dan Navin of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that testified before the state senate education committee, where the bill lost momentum.
Now Ohio risks becoming yet another state that backtracks on its push for personal financial literacy for young people. Only last week the state of New Mexico eliminated two key positions that spell the end of a financial literacy program that had reached 5,000 students statewide.
Ohio’s existing financial literacy mandate is weak, calling only for coursework to be integrated into a math or social studies or some other class. Mandates falling short of a full-semester course devoted to personal finance are akin to window dressing in an empty store. They wind up leaving many kids to learn money management in the school of hard knocks.
The legislature’s failure to act this year means another class of Ohio students will make student loan decisions without first learning about student loans. They’ll learn about payday loans from flashy commercials and may forgo targeted savings goals because they believe saving what’s left at the end of the month works fine. They may opt out of their 401(k) plan and miss out on their company’s match because they never learned how compound returns could improve their future lives. They might believe the myth that all credit cards are bad and misunderstand the impact on their credit score of just a few late payments.
My frustration is shared by many who are trying to make a difference in the financial future of millions of young adults. I’d like to believe that recent setbacks such as the ones in Ohio and New Mexico are outweighed by spurts of progress—or at least by the hope of progress that makes the agony of persistence worthwhile. Collectively, we proceed on that basis.