Lawmakers weigh new degree requirement for Vermont high schools: personal finance class

By Cora Smith | Community News Service

A new bill would require Vermont public school students to take a personal finance course to graduate high school.

If the bill, H.228, passes, the mandate will go into effect July 1 and apply to all public high school students graduating during or after next school year.

The proposed legislation comes as Vermonters seem increasingly interested in making sure teens graduate high school knowing how to manage money.

More than nine out of 10 Vermonters believe personal finance education should be taught in high schools, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling and the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College released in January.

Close to 90% of Vermonters think guaranteed access to a personal finance class is necessary and that a law requiring such a course is an urgent issue, the poll also says.

Few schools require a finance course, despite the public support.

“Thirty-eight percent of the schools in Vermont offer an elective in personal financial literacy, but only about 11% make it a requirement or guarantee that each student can take the class,” said Rep. Stephanie Jerome, D-Brandon, one of the bill’s sponsors.

U-32 High School in Montpelier is one of the schools that requires students to take a personal finance class to graduate. It was one of the schools to do so in the state.

“This is a lot more than a math class,” said George Cook, who has taught a financial literacy class at U-32 for 12 years.

The class includes topics such as money management, financial planning, careers, credit and debit, risk management, insurance, saving and investing. Cook also notes the importance of teaching the psychological side of handling money.

“Money can be something that’s very psychological and affects people emotionally,” Cook said. “And it’s important to teach kids how to deal with that.”

Cook spoke passionately about his teaching. He considers himself a “money mentor” to his students.

“This is without hesitation as important as any other class in the building,” he said. “It’s actually a class that affects every single kid in the building. And it’s literally a skill for a lifetime.”

Courtney Poquette, a personal finance teacher at Winooski High School, gave testimony at the Statehouse on Feb. 8 in support of the bill.

Poquette began developing the curriculum for her personal finance class in 2007 and has been teaching the class for 16 years.

“On the first day of my class students often think they will be ‘rich’ if they make $40,000 a year, but quickly discover the expenses associated with the lifestyles they dream of, so it is a reality check and one that gets students to really question the decisions that they are making now and how that will impact their futures,” Poquette said then. “Many students have reported that they have changed their life directions as a result of the class.”

She added that there are free or low-cost resources available for teachers, including through the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College.

But some in education circles are hesitant to make it a requirement.

Jay Nichols, executive director of Vermont Principals Association, said he sees the importance of teaching personal finance but advocates for more choice in schools, rather than requirements.

He said research suggests it’s better for students when they have more choices in their education.

Nichols said students should have the option to count financial literacy as one of their math requirements.

For H.228, Nichols is worried about the bill’s scant details on qualifications for teachers, and he thinks it will be difficult to fit another required course into students’ schedules. He also said that any time a bill changing education policy is proposed, local school boards should have a say.

If the mandate goes into effect, the Vermont Agency of Education will provide guidance for how to implement the new curriculum changes, which could address the concerns Nichols mentioned.

Agency officials cautioned that implementing a new education requirement would take time.

“The difficulty in education is that requiring a course is one thing,” said Ted Fisher, director of communications and legislative affairs for the agency. “Making sure that the program is resourced enough and providing the professional learning and the supports to schools or to individual educators to actually provide good, high quality instruction is a very different thing.”

Fisher declined to comment on the specifics of the proposed legislation since the bill has not been passed.

H.228 is in the House Education Committee. Rep. Michael Marcotte, R-Coventry, the other lead sponsor of the bill, said it is possible the committee will hear that the timeline to implement the change is too quick.

“I think we need to really start at the high school level to make sure that students receive that education so that they make good decisions with their money when they graduate or even before they graduate,” Marcotte said.

Jerome said she has heard from fellow legislators and constituents about how much students need a personal finance class.

“I just feel like it’s really healthy to get people on the right footing for their future so they understand finances,” said Jerome. “I think people are understanding that in order for people to be successful in life, you need to understand money and understand savings and expenses.”

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain

12 thoughts on “Lawmakers weigh new degree requirement for Vermont high schools: personal finance class

  1. Civics might get added to the list. What is the difference between a republic and democracy would be a good thing for our youth to understand.

    It would be nice if people had a good understanding of money, they could see the giant swindle going on in our state.

    • rule #1, a debtor is slave to the creditor
      rule #2, there is no such thing as free money
      rule #3, spend less than you earn.

  2. This is a great idea!
    Now they should also require basic first aid that progresses to advanced first aid by graduation. This would save thousands of lives every year.

  3. Requiring high schools to implement a financial planning course is a great idea. Better yet make it two courses, the first basic and required, the second advanced and elective.

    The basic course to meet a math requirement to include balancing a checkbook, budgets, etc. The advanced to cover using the stock market.

    It would be ideal to include career planning. The problem is finding teachers that have experience and knowledge of careers outside of academics. Years ago I met the head of the mechanical engineering department at U Mass. He had no clue what people were making other than entry-level graduates.

    • Bingo.

      Sure. Teach the kids some ‘personal finance’. What’s not to like about that?

      Well, … have you forgotten that you’re asking the same people who are already teaching your children reading, writing, math, and science, to teach ‘personal finance’ too? How naïve can you all be? Sixty percent of Vermont students can’t read as it is. Meanwhile, 90% of these students graduate anyway. And we’re spending more to educate a first grader than it costs to go to college, including room and board. So, now you want these same people to teach ‘personal finance’? Good luck with that.

      And sure, add civics too. And weapons training. And……whatever.

  4. This is actually something all students could use if it better prepares them for life off the parents support lifeline. Being implemented by the NEA I have my doubts about how it would turn out seeing their current record on students retained knowledge. I remember something like this when I was in High School, making a budget, paying bills being responsible with your money, I guess they dropped it to make room for demonstration 101 and gender studies 103…

  5. What planet are these Liberals on? Does this bill make them “feel” better? How on earth do they expect students to pass any “personal finance” test – to graduate….when Vermont seems unable to get any BASIC proficiency test scores….in reading, writing & arithmetic? What is VT, on many of these scores….maybe 45% proficient? HOW is it possible they expect, with such low education test scores – to read, write or do any math…that they will pass a finance test? OMG…VT is run by mentally challenged, near insane…idiots.

    • I propose a NEW Bill be entered. Forget students taking a finance test…EVERY Legislator must take a “financial literacy” test to serve. Make it tough. I bet less than 50% of Legislators would pass. If they do not pass, they are FIRED…just like they now propose that you get no high school degree if you don’t pass a finance test??.

      A very basic tenet of finance is your R.O.I….Return On investment. SO ASK LEGISLATORS THIS…VT spends about $19,400 per student. Class sizes run 15 or less students per teacher. VT spends about the THIRD largest $ “per pupil” in the USA. And the R.O.I.? Many Vermont kids are below proficiency for reading writing, arithmetic? All the VT teachers (and Union NEA) excel at is….a W.O.K.E education….. and very little else . But boy-oh-boy do VT kids know all about Climate Change, CRT, BLM, Equity, Inclusion,Sex, Gender, Trannies, Organic food, Class Envy, Class Warfare, Fuel oil and Gas kills… and rich people don’t pay any taxes.

      • Oh they get a great return, 100% indoctrinated.

        See it’s a perfect return, they aren’t going to change it, but make it more to their liking.

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