Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Personal finance literacy must reach all students

I have spent over a decade teaching, and there is one course that is “personal” to me and my students – personal finance.

During my time at Sandia High School as a Distributive Education Clubs of America teacher, I spent my time teaching students the essential skills they need to make important financial decisions for the rest of their lives. This includes skills and concepts such as applying for college grants, saving and investing, using money to achieve the goals that matter most to them, and becoming an entrepreneur.

There is no greater reward than when students come back and tell me that the knowledge they received from my classes helped them make a very important life decision or avoid a costly mistake. Unfortunately, not every student in our state has this opportunity.

I was disheartened to learn that only 11% of New Mexico high school students take a pre-graduation course in personal finance, and that our state is one of only five states to still have K-12 personal finance standards to have. It is imperative that all students complete this course before entering the labor market or post-secondary institutions.

Many of my current and former students not only express their gratitude for the skills they have acquired through taking this course, but also tell me how they have shared their knowledge with their parents and other family members. One college student told me that she helped her mother avoid buying a car because she was able to identify financing terms and conditions that weren’t in her mother’s best interest. Empowering students and families with this knowledge helps our state make strides in tackling generational poverty.

Every year New Mexico waits to make personal finance a graduation requirement, students miss out.

I understand that concerns have been raised about where the course is placed in the curriculum – e.g. social studies or math — and whether a new requirement will weigh on school districts. Although I teach a year-long personal finance course in a very urban county, I understand that many counties in our state, particularly those in rural areas, may not have the resources or an instructor to offer a standalone personal finance course.

However, I recently learned that Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, plans to introduce legislation that would give flexibility to local schools and school districts while ensuring that every student receives this basic instruction, whether or not enrolled as a standalone course for personal finance is offered, replaces a math credit, or is integrated into a personal finance and economics course. This legislation would also allow teachers with endorsements in math, social studies, business education, and family and consumer sciences to teach this course, creating even more opportunities for local schools.

With rigorous personal finance standards adhered to by our public education department and effective professional development and implementation, we can ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn these skills and be ready, wherever life takes them leads. As an experienced personal finance teacher, I am aware of a wide range of free resources available from credit unions and various nonprofit organizations for all teachers to use in their classes.

Because this year’s legislative session is a short session, which can only present draft budgets and the governor’s priorities, we need the governor’s support to move Maestas legislation forward during the 2022 session. I implore Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to place personal finance education on her agenda for the next legislative session, and I call on our legislature to support all students, teachers and families by passing legislation to ensure every high school student learns about personal finance.

Linda Wilson is a member of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

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