Commentary, Opinion

It’s time to help Vermont students get financially literate

By John Pelletier

All Vermont public school students are supposed to be taught personal finance, but I would bet that many parents would have a hard time finding a young person who has learned about credit scores, investing or compound interest.

And there probably are even fewer students learning about personal finance during the pandemic, as teachers rightfully focus on core subjects.

My hope is that all that will change in the next school year. The Vermont State Board of Education adopted the JumpStart National Standard on K-12 Personal Finance Education in 2018. The  52-page document outlined what every Vermont student should know about personal finance by kindergarten, 4th, 8th and 12th grades. Prior to making this change, Vermont students were only required to learn very modest amounts of personal finance content.

The state board recognized that the new standards could be taught in a standalone course, or integrated into math, language arts, socials studies classes, etc. They understood that this topic could be brought to the classroom in an interdisciplinary manner. Honoring our Vermont traditions, the state board left how to teach this topic up to local control and decisions of our school districts.

But all of this is new to most teachers, curriculum directors, school administrators and parents. So how can we help Vermont educators successfully bring this important topic into the classroom?

The first step is training teachers, and as of March 3, The Center for Financial Literacy and Champlain College Online, in partnership with the Vermont Agency of Education, started offering free online, on-demand financial literacy professional development training for all Vermont teachers. This training is being made available to all public and private school educators.

Vermont teachers can now learn how to teach personal finance in seminars — available asynchronously through May. Educators can complete all or just some of the seven hours of professional development available on the topic. The first 400 educators (elementary, middle and high school) to complete the training will receive a $50 Amazon gift certificate.  All educators will have 90 days to achieve that—until May 31. Professional development credit will be given for each one-hour session completed.

With a trained corps of teachers, we can reach many of the more than 80,000 students in Vermont who will then have a solid foundation for financial success in their careers and lives.

We believe this subject is so important to our future that we would have broadened the scope of this free training to reach even more Vermonters. Thanks to the virtual nature of the program, we encourage participation by parents (especially those who homeschool their children), employees and volunteers at nonprofit organizations, professionals in after-school programs, and other educators in state or local agencies (e.g.. prison educators, social workers, Gear-Up tutors) and those working in community action agencies and restorative justice programs.

If we want our kids to learn how to manage their finances, we need qualified, confident teachers to show them how. We need financially literate adults who can provide our young people the knowledge and skill to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial wellbeing.

The pandemic  reinforces how important this topic is to all of our citizens financial success. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the Federal Reserve Board conducted a survey of adults that noted that almost 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge that they could quickly pay off. That means that four out of 10 adults are clearly financially fragile and just one economic shock from dire consequences.

Together, we can ensure that all future Vermont high school graduates benefit from this learning. Then they will be financially prepared for the workforce, the military or college, because each of these paths will require them to think about money each day — how to make it, spend and save it.

So I sincerely hope that thousands of Vermonters involved in education take advantage of this free, online training that they can plug into at their convenience. Our teachers have been among our heroes during the pandemic, here is another chance for them to shine.

If any Vermonter would like to participate in all or some of the free, online and on-demand training, register by going to:

John Pelletier is director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College. Our center’s free training is made possible by the generous grants from Northfield Savings Bank Foundation, the National Life Group Foundation and Next Gen Personal Finance.

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