Parents are only slightly more comfortable talking with their kids about money than about the birds and the bees. That’s according to John Pelletier, who directs Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy.
He said kids need to learn financial skills somewhere, but “the reality is for 80 percent of adults and 80 percent of students who are in high school, they are going to learn through the school of hard knocks.”
Pelletier said those mistakes can lead to lifelong debt, but that schools can help kids avoid that by teaching personal finance. That’s why his center issues the National Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools.
This year, Wyoming scored a 'D,' along with Louisiana, Montana and Vermont. There were several states that received an 'F,' and neighboring Utah was the only state to receive an 'A+.'
Students in Wyoming can graduate high school without demonstrating personal finance skills, and the state’s content standards don’t provide much guidance, which means it’s up to districts to determine how important it is to teach money management skills. Pelletier said most schools touch on it briefly, by, for example, integrating personal finance into the economics portion of the social studies curriculum.
Pelletier said to bump up to a 'C' or a 'B,' Wyoming needs to take a more focused approach to teaching personal finance, and be clear about how students will be evaluated on those skills.
This matters because, according to Pelletier, financial literacy is linked to positive economic outcomes and wealth accumulation. It helps students make smart choices about how to pay for college, take out a loan for a first car, or even buy their next meal.
“We need money to survive, and yet we have a system of education that just assumes two things: people will be able to get money and they’ll know what to do with it,” said Pelletier. “And so this thing that is the oil, that keeps the entire capitalist system going, we don’t feel it’s worthy in many states of special education.”
Superintendent Jillian Balow said there are schools in Wyoming that have more robust financial literacy programs, like some in Cody and Buffalo, but she agreed there could be a more consistent approach across the state. It’s an issue she said she’s keeping her eye on, and one that school administrators will take up further at a statewide forum in February.