Keelan: Vermont schools get a ‘D’ in financial literacy

By Don Keelan

When it comes to evaluating the quality of teaching financial literacy in Vermont’s high schools, a “D” grade was handed out. According to a recent editorial in the Rutland Herald, the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia in how they were preparing high school students in financial literacy.

According to the Herald, only five states obtained an “A” grade, while 31 states received a “B” or “C” ranking. Vermont joined three other states in getting a “D” ranking – and it could have been worse; 11 states ended up with an “F.”


Young adults need a well thought-out financial literacy program. But are schools the right place for it?

Part of the classification status has to do with the criteria that, if a state has mandatory financial literacy as a prerequisite to graduation, an “A” ranking can be secured. At the other end, if a state has no requirements whatsoever, an “F” ranking will be assigned.

Vermont has not ignored the issue. On Jan. 8, 2018, the Financial Literacy Commission issued their final report with recommendations to the governor and several committees of the state Senate and House. The 12-member commission was headed up by the state’s treasurer, Beth Pearce, and Professor John Pelletier of Champlain College (who was the author of the national survey mentioned above).

Also, in January, the Agency of Education issued its report to the State Board of Education recommending the adoption of the national standards for financial literacy in schools. Presently, there are 12 schools in Vermont that make the teaching of financial literacy mandatory. With the adoption of the standards, Vermont will move up a grade, to “C.”

Frankly, I don’t think the teaching of financial literacy belongs in the schools in the first place, and I am fully aware that parents and guardians are unable, reluctant or uncomfortable teaching financial literacy at home.

When it comes to what should be taught, it can be condensed into the following topics: how to read and or prepare a personal financial statement and budget, insurance agreements, leases, bank statements and credit card statements; how to acquire and manage debt whether it be a car loan, student loan, credit card, or later a home mortgage; and how to accumulate assets, whether they be stocks, bonds, savings account, car, home or personal items.

Now let’s go back and see why a course on financial literacy should not be taught in our schools. The teaching staff is already being swamped with other non-academic subjects such as sex and health education, sensitivity training, and home economics (if still done). Also, most high school teachers do not feel competent to teach financial literacy and would have to have extensive training to do so.

A possible solution would be to make it mandatory that high school students in their junior and senior year attend a Saturday workshop over a four-week period where financial literacy subjects will be taught. The teachers will be volunteers from the local community with backgrounds in asset and credit management, as well as taxes. Some candidates would be local bank loan and wealth management officers and possibly local CPAs or corporate financial personnel.

Young adults need a well thought-out financial literacy program. When it comes time for them to deal with credit, obtain a mortgage, buy or lease a home or a car, invest in the stock or bond markets, it should not be a daunting experience, if they are prepared.

There comes a time when we just have to recognize that our schools cannot be the last resort to teaching our young adults all that they need to know to navigate the world they enter after graduation. Good examples of this are the programs used to teach hunter safety programs and driver education. These critical and worthwhile programs are done outside our schools and have been most successful and run by volunteers. Why not do the same for the teaching of financial literacy?

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

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4 thoughts on “Keelan: Vermont schools get a ‘D’ in financial literacy

  1. Long ago I was asked to speak to a class on Personal Finance at High School. 1970 – something

    The students seemed to have zero idea what the national debt was or the population of the country, nor the concept of dividing one into the other.

    I asked to borrow the text book overnight. Not a word about debt, loans, interest, spending habits, interest, being able to read your debt billings, balancing spending with income, saving for the future – emergencies – retirement – NOTHING

    Around that time I ordered a Roast Beef sandwich. The high school aged person wrote ‘rost beff'”. It was $1.79 I gave her $2.00 She gave me change of 2 pennies and a dime

    The text book was filled with “This is what the Gov’t can do for you. Hundreds of pages, without any knowledge, or urging of personal management of your spending or debt Social Security, gov’t loans, we will protect you from all and any fraud, Etc. Etc.

  2. 1) It appears that the ranking is determined solely on the basis of a State’s laws & regulations rather than what the students actually come away with. Another meaningless study project.

    2) Mr. Keelan makes rather telling points in opposition to teaching personal finance in the schools. It would be appropriate for such lessons to be taught as an optional extra-curricular activity in high school facilities but taught by volunteers. Enrollment would be limited since it makes no sense for someone who can’t do simple arithmetic. (I recently ordered 3/4 lb. of cold cuts from a young man at the deli counter. He couldn’t do it since the scale gives a decimal readout.)

    • Vermont schools would prefer to teach about other ‘cultures (which half of those proposed have no culture, at all, and are oppressive…but do you think they would include that in their curriculum?) . No wonder our schools are failing. They eschew our own history, degrade it, in fact, for that of underdeveloped and backward countries still in the stone age. There is something seriously wrong with our education system, and that includes the dim witted, undereducated teachers, themselves.

  3. Vermont schools get a ‘D’ in financial literacy, that’s good news from what I have seen,
    I figured the would have received an ” F ” .

    If your talking schools teaching financial literacy and understanding the meaning, which is
    “the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime
    of financial well-being. Now that’s funny!

    I would hate to be in the states that already received an ” F ” there doomed and so are we.

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