Opinion: Financial literacy improvements needed in CT

Bernadine Venditto

Aug. 6, 2021

Pictured: Participants in our High School Heroes program at Ansonia High School teach JA lessons to students at Mead Elementary School.

With many school systems across the state set to open for on-site classes in the fall, it once again is time to review the state’s efforts to provide financial literacy to its nearly 600,000 kindergarten to 12th grade students.

Connecticut, with the second highest per capita income in the country, and perpetually looming financial issues, should want its emerging workforce — who also will be voting soon — to make financial education in its schools a high priority.

There is encouraging news as the latest report card shows improvement in Connecticut’s approach to financial literacy in its schools. On the other hand, that improvement is only from an F in earlier years to a D grade presently, indicating that while there is some movement, much is needed in the way of discernible action.

One way to help move forward is through adoption of some of the programs offered through nonprofit organizations like Junior Achievement.

The American Public Education Foundation, which produces the report card, notes that “the financial reality of our country reflects our schools’ failure to prepare and educate students in personal finance and decision-making.” Some of the more disturbing facts regarding Americans’ ability to successfully handle their personal include:

One-third of Americans have no retirement savings.

The average American household is $135,065 in debt.

Americans owe $423.8 billion in credit card debt.

58 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.

Connecticut does not require a stand-alone personal finance course for high school graduation, nor does it require students to take a course with personal finance embedded. This, even though legislation in 2012 permitted a personal finance course to count towards the required “two credits in career and life skills elective.”

Connecticut does have a business and finance technology education framework for the personal finance elective. Also, a 2014 law directed that the Department of Education “develop a plan to ensure that each student of a public high school or a constituent unit… receives instruction in financial literacy… during a student’s final year of high school.”

Since the Connecticut legislature began passing various measures to at least encourage, if not outright direct, a more intensive focus on financial literacy, the world of finance has gone through significant upheavals. The Great Recession impacted millions of working families, and that was followed by the explosion of cybercurrencies.

Government programs have swung from basic conservatism to more liberal policies and while these variations can all affect the average household on some level, everyone still needs to know how to balance a bank checking account, pay bills, maintain a savings account and build a solid basis for retirement. How can we expect the next generation of workers and leaders to have a firm grasp of the vagaries of an international monetary system if they don’t even know how to navigate a monthly audit of their personal bank cards, much less international fluidity?

For many years, Junior Achievement has offered financial education programs to supplement what may otherwise be lacking in the schools. School systems can always rely on add the programs offered by Junior Achievement — programs proven over literally decades.

The isolation forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic only reinforced the need for financial literacy and self-sufficiency. To stay abreast of monetary complexities and basics alike, today’s students need focused, required courses on financial literacy that begin with the basics in kindergarten and build, grade by grade to a final course at the end of their high school years. The ultimate goal will be graduating seniors who can enter the world prepared for whatever step they take next, whether it be trades, military or other forms of public service or further education.

At the moment it is clear that Connecticut does not provide sufficient financial education. The framework for a first-class program exists, and all that is needed for a dream to become reality is the willingness of the state’s political and educational structure to make it happen.

Meanwhile, financial literacy remains a cornerstone of Junior Achievement’s mission: “inspiring and preparing young people to succeed, through programs which focus on financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship.”

Bernadine Venditto is president of Bridgeport-based Junior Achievement of Greater Fairfield County. She can be reached at 203-382-0180 or bvenditto@jagfc.org .


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