Letter: Today’s high school students need financial literacy

Posted 4/17/19

To the editor:

Financial Literacy Month is April of each year. This year is a special year for Rhode Islanders!

In 2003, the United States Senate declared April “Financial Literacy for …

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Letter: Today’s high school students need financial literacy

Posted

To the editor:

Financial Literacy Month is April of each year. This year is a special year for Rhode Islanders!

In 2003, the United States Senate declared April “Financial Literacy for Youth Month.” A year later, in March of 200,4 the United States Senate passed Resolution 316, officially recognizing April as “National Financial Literacy Month.” While some may greet the event in celebration, for the majority of America, such as the roughly 60 percent of working age individuals who do not own any retirement account assets, it is a call for action — an educational intervention for financial literacy to be taught, at the least, in all public schools … and yes, as a requirement.

For Rhode Island, such a small state, the stats are sobering. Here’s why: 

• We have the second-highest percentage of unbanked households in New England.

• Our rate of delinquent mortgage loans is the ninth highest in the nation.

• College graduates from Rhode Island have the second-highest student debt burden in the country.

I’m a teacher. I teach business, finance, and economics after “graduating” from a 32-year career in the private sector. In business, from my experience, when faced with a procedural problem, we first identify the root cause and from there we apply the fix, guaranteeing stability going forward while allowing us to concentrate on fixing the past. We called it “stop the bleeding.”

The absence of financial literacy can cause damage across each stage of one’s life. In their teens, today’s high school students are making financial decisions that will affect their financial health for decades to come. Guaranteeing them an education in financial literacy, at this early age, “stops the financial bleeding” and offers our youths, our emerging leaders, economic opportunities for the future that would otherwise be lost.

There are 36 states in the U.S. that guarantee access to personal financial education in their public-school curriculum. Unfortunately, Rhode Island is not one of them. But this is about to change. This is the year for Rhode Island. 

Inspired by the work of Treasurer Seth Magaziner and his staff, and sponsored by Sen. Sandra Cano, Rep. John McNamara and others, Senate Bill No. 112/House Bill No. 5033 is rapidly gaining support at the State House, calling for financial literacy to be required in public schools within an achievable timeframe. I urge, not just my fellow Portsmouth residents, but also the entire community of Rhode Islanders to support the bill. 

I often like to quote John Pelletier, director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College, “We would not allow a student to get in the driver’s seat of a car without requiring driver’s education. Yet we allow our citizens to enter the complex financial world without any financial education … (without it), history will mock us and force our children and grandchildren to live through another horrible financial and economic crisis.” 

To learn more about the legislation and for the source of much of my data, please visit treasury.ri.gov/fallenbehind.

Richard Garland

58 Albert St.

Portsmouth

Richard Garland is a business, finance, and economics teacher at North Kingstown High School. He was named Rhode Island’s 2017 Financial Educator of the Year, as well as the 2019 District Teacher of the Year.

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