April 26, 2012
Pennsylvania Strong in Fin Ed – For Now
Talking to teenagers taking personal finance at Panther Valley High School in Pennsylvania made me wonder why these classes aren’t a top priority everywhere.
These kids are even teaching their parents a thing or two about money. Jordan Kulp saved her mother $30 by finding a scooter for a cousin’s baby that her mother had wanted to buy on a shopping channel. Now that Jake Gulla’s mother sits in on his personal finance class, she is “spending [money] a little more wisely.”
And William Digiglio’s father wanted to sell a shield for $100 that Chris Evans apparently carried in the “Captain America” movie. William put it up for sale on eBay and snared $20,000 for the shield, which his father had won in a contest. For class projects, “we had to research rather than taking them for face value,” he explained.
These Panther Valley students have helped make Pennsylvania, for a third year running, the state with the highest number of students scoring in the top 20 percent on the federal government’s 2012 test for the National Financial Capability Challenge (NFCC), according to Mary Rosenkrans, financial education director for the state’s Department of Banking.
Pennsylvania also had the highest number of students who took the test (7,404) and the highest number of participating schools (123). (Oregon had the highest average test score: 79.5 percent, compared with 69 percent nationwide.)
Rosenkrans attributed Pennsylvania’s strength to the state’s history of programs promoting financial education. But the NFCC results – just posted on the web – come on the heels of budget reductions that cut important programs in 2011. Casualties were a popular program to train personal finance instructors and the Office of Financial Education, which was closed.
In Pennsylvania, 7.5 percent of high schools in 2009 required personal finance for high school graduation, up from 3.5 percent in 2007, Rosenkrans said. She doesn’t know the current numbers but is concerned they may be declining. Personal finance is often part of business education or consumer science, which “are elective courses [and] have been cut.”
But she called Panther Valley in Lansford, an old Pennsylvania coal town, a “model.” Starting in 2013, personal finance will be required for all its graduating seniors.
Susan Solt, a professional tax preparer, started the class there in 2009. Her students learn the gamut of financial topics during two full semesters: W-2s, checking accounts, rent versus buy, and the high cost of credit. Credit cards, Gulla has concluded, “are ridiculous. The interest rates are crazy.”
In a real-life lesson, Solt instructs students to go on the Internet and “find” a job anywhere in the country – and then, based on the income they’d earn, find housing and make up a budget. Students learned a little bit about what their parents – skilled laborers, small mom-and-pop business owners and low-income workers – are up against too.
Kulp said the $500 apartment she could afford on her entry-level pediatrics job in San Diego “wasn’t even near the city.”
Other Pennsylvania schools with top NFCC scores include Eastern York High School, Villa Joseph Marie High School, Plum Senior High School, and Susquehannock Township High School.
Susquehannock High’s personal finance teacher, Angela Lehigh, said that every single student in her class who was polled “suggest(ed) everyone take the class.”
That sounds like a good reason to make personal finance a high school priority.