Promoting Personal Finance Education Through Collaboration
February 11, 2021
By Curtis Loftis, South Carolina State Treasurer
Personal finance education has never been more relevant than it is today in the COVID-19 era. The virus has disrupted the finances of many hard-working citizens and left them wondering how to navigate their economic obligations. But even before the arrival of the pandemic, studies had already shown that a lack of financial literacy has a detrimental impact on Americans. Without important knowledge about real-world topics such as loans, credit, taxes, and retirement, Americans can experience anxiety about money and often end up with growing debt that is difficult to overcome. Many states have attempted to respond to the need by incorporating personal finance into their education standards. However, close examination reveals this approach may not be enough.
While 45 states have at least included personal finance in their K-12 standards, only 21 of those actually require students to take a finance course; 15 of the 21 – including South Carolina – simply integrate personal finance into another course, such as social studies or math. The unfortunate result? Only six states truly require a comprehensive personal finance class before graduation.
Fortunately, this year South Carolina schools have begun implementing new personal finance academic standards. For this effort to be successful, we knew that preparing our educators to share these critical skills with our current generation of students was vitally important. That’s why, having worked together for many years to support K-12 financial literacy efforts throughout the state, we saw the opportunity for a meaningful collaboration between the State Treasurer’s Office and the South Carolina Council on Economic Education, known locally as SC Economics.
Last January, the State Treasurer’s Office, through its Future Scholar College Savings Plan, collaborated with SC Economics – a statewide non-profit dedicated to providing training, tools and resources for K-12 teachers in economic education and financial literacy – to launch a new program to bring personal finance education into classrooms.
The South Carolina Financial Literacy Master Teacher Program is a bold, innovative initiative that aims to energize teachers about the importance of incorporating personal finance into their curriculum by providing not only financial incentives, but also tools and training since many do not feel equipped to teach these lessons. In fact, a study by the University of Wisconsin showed that more than 80% of teachers feel unprepared to teach personal finance. The S.C. Financial Literacy Master Teacher Program offers a unique solution that emphasizes educators’ personal professional growth while increasing their confidence to teach financial literacy content.
In addition to exhibiting a passion for personal finance education, educators selected to participate in the program must pass the national W!SE Financial Literacy Certification exam, participate in financial literacy professional development, and lead their own financial literacy training workshops. Workshops allow them to share best practices and learning adaptations with other educators so that financial literacy lessons can be taught cross-curricular and at all grade levels across the state. Educators are compensated for their participation in these workshops. As teachers progress through the multi-year program at the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels of training, they receive more incentives for their work as they take on additional training and teaching requirements.
As we begin our second year, we are pleased to note that the program is already having a strong impact. Our first two cohorts, comprised of 64 educators, represent 54 different schools – 39 high schools, 18 middle schools and seven elementary schools – and 24 school districts, plus two private schools. And we’re currently recruiting educators to join our third cohort and begin their professional development later this spring.
When the coronavirus changed how our schools operated, we quickly adapted our training efforts to a virtual platform in order to continue to provide this vital financial literacy education in my state for the foreseeable future. With its unique structure that emphasizes teacher training, we think the S.C. Financial Literacy Master Teacher Program will serve as a national model for other states to follow.
We are grateful to our teachers and the participating schools and districts that support them in their willingness to bring these vital lessons to the classroom. As we enter our second year of this program, we are excited to continue our efforts to bring them best-in-class financial education in hopes of improving their quality of life and their future financial health.
South Carolina State Treasurer
A version of this article was originally published in the National Association of State Treasurers' Thought Leader Thursday newsletter.