GBC’s Fry: Public education must re-focus on the issue of financial literacy

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

The topic of financial literacy is being debated more often in policy circles and in the media.

Several studies, including a recent national survey, show that a majority of Americans lack working knowledge of financial basics that apply to borrowing, interest rates, inflation, risk, investing and pricing.

Such holes in a person’s knowledge can worsen personal financial problems. They even deepened the economic effects of the Great Recession, experts say.

Meanwhile, a lack of financial literacy among young people entering today’s workforce is a growing concern among employers, who note that candidates can be disqualified for some jobs if they have serious credit problems.

Many, these days, are calling for more structured financial literacy content to be taught in public schools.

Few in the education community question the value of students learning economic basics and personal financial management. But many contend that a separate financial literacy course is not needed. In Maryland, elements of financial literacy are currently embedded throughout our state’s public school subjects, say state education officials.

This year, Virginia became the 4th state in the nation to require a financial literacy course for high school graduation. Business advocates in Maryland have supported similar legislation, but it has failed to pass the General Assembly, largely due to the state school board’s opposition on the grounds that lawmakers shouldn’t micromanage curriculum in our public schools.

The school board may have a point. But that puts the ball squarely in its own court.

Evidence is mounting that something must be done to better educate young people about basic economics and personal finance, and that whatever public school systems are currently doing isn’t working – even in Maryland.

Our State Board of Education needs to move away from the existing less-than-integrated tactics that fold financial literacy into public school subjects. Instead, they should develop a more strategic approach to imparting critical financial management life skills to future generations.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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