February 2, 2022 By State Senator Patrick M. O’Connor
The New Year always brings fresh resolutions, perhaps this year more than most because of what we’ve all endured over the past two years. We all want some sort of fresh start, a sense that we’re doing the right thing, and a good plan moving forward.
As a state, we should commit to advancing the fight for high-quality financial literacy education in our public schools. While we’re all concerned with what the future will bring, there’s little more forward-looking than ensuring that the next generation has the proper knowledge and skills to navigate an ever-more-complicated economic and financial landscape.
Working with my colleagues across the aisle, I’ve sponsored two bills (S.380 and S.381) which would require financial literacy education in K-12 schools. Research shows that many financial habits and behaviors have been developed by the time a child is 7-years-old.
And time is of the essence, both for our kids and for the health of our economy. The numbers are stark.
The average American consumer’s debt balance tops $92,000 and our total consumer debt as a country is nearing $15 trillion, according to data from Experian. A Bankrate survey released last year, shows that Fewer than four in 10 U.S. adults have enough in their savings account to pay for an unexpected cost such as a surprise visit to the mechanic or a trip to the emergency room. Eighteen percent of respondents said they would use their credit cards, which, of course, triggers high interest payments and further perpetuates the debt crisis.
During a time of economic turbulence, there’s an obvious, glaring urgency for sounder financial management among many American families.
That should start as soon as we can and be implemented as thoroughly as possible. Both Senate bills, which currently sit before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, would go far in promoting improved personal finance acumen among our kids.
Taken together, the two measures would establish a revenue stream in the form of a dedicated trust fund to allow schools to incorporate financial literacy standards into existing curriculum.
Students would learn about loans, interest, credit card debt, online commerce, renting and buying a home, how to save and plan for retirement, how banks and financial services work, balancing a checkbook, and evaluating media content.
Passing these bills would constitute an important step in empowering children and families to make smarter decisions earlier in life that would reap lasting benefits. By targeting students when they start kindergarten, we can address many of the short-sighted financial habits that often crop up later in life.
Consider that sports betting is now legal in 31 states and Washington D.C., and Massachusetts continues to inch closer to being number 32 – we need to be confident that our young people understand their financial standing before placing potentially risky bets with the hopes of a big payoff. States like New York and Ohio have gotten creative and used a small percentage of the sports betting revenue to reinvest in youth-based initiatives. Massachusetts should follow a similar path and support financial literacy initiatives in our schools.
At the upper end of the K-12 trajectory, kids will learn skills they’ll need in the short term, whether they’re attending college, learning a trade, going into the military, or immediately launching a career. Graduating from schools that have imparted quality financial literacy will prove invaluable.
The venerable academic subjects we all remember from when we were their age – math, science, history, etc. – will remain as bedrocks in our kids’ education, as they should. But an evolving world requires an evolving examination of what best serves the students. It is now that we must equip them to make prudent financial decisions in an increasingly complex financial system. And by not providing them these skills – skills that could lead to a lifetime of informed and confident financial decision making – we’re doing them a disservice.
There’s a lot, as all of us have learned repeatedly over the last two years, that we cannot control. But investing in our children’s future is one thing we can and we absolutely should.
Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth) represents the Plymouth and Norfolk District, which includes the towns of Cohasset, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate, and Weymouth. He serves as Ranking Minority Member on the Joint Committee on Education. Sen. O’Connor and his staff may be reached at the State House at 617-722-1646 or by email at Patrick.O’Connor@MASenate.gov