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On Nov. 9, the Board of Education (BOE), in a unanimous vote, passed a resolution to include financial literacy as one of the required courses to graduate. However, this resolution does not mean it is official that the course will be a requirement. While the passing marks a pivotal step, it only instructs the BOE to complete a feasibility study that the committee will revote in January 2022.
In partnership with InnovateX, an advocacy group dedicated to making personal finance accessible to all students, SMOB Hana O’Looney issued the proposal that beginning with the Class of 2028, personal finance classes will become a 0.5 credit requirement, following suit with the eight other Maryland counties who have already implemented this similar practice.
“Our number one priority is to make sure that students are currently college and career ready,” O’Looney said at an October BOE meeting. “But I don’t think we can continue to say that our graduates are ready for the workforce and ready for their careers and college when they don’t know how to file taxes, what a credit score is, or how to manage student loans … At every single school and every single grade, I’ve heard students say they wish what they were learning was more relevant and applicable to their lives.”
O’Looney’s proposition sheds light on the need for financial literacy education in MCPS. As of now, only six MCPS high schools, including WCHS, offer this course as an elective. WCHS offers Personal Finance to sophomores, juniors and seniors as a semester-long course. The proposal ensures all high schoolers are on track to stay financially secure and will offer this course in every single high school and possibly over the summer as well.
Students spend seven hours a day, amounting to 35 hours a week at school. Not everyone will need everything they learn in classes. However, everyone will need to know how to file their taxes and apply for a loan regardless of their career path, which is where financial literacy comes in handy.
“Financial literacy is basically how to be a successful adult 101,” WCHS personal finance and economics teacher Ian Vickery said. “We cover all the things and habits that you need to do to be successful in college and beyond, all the way to retirement.”
WCHS has offered the course for 12 years, and Vickery has taught it for two, making it one of the most popular electives students take to fill their schedule gap after completing their health credit. “I do think many students know about this course,” Vickery said. “I currently have 101 students right now across three classes, which is a lot for an elective, in my opinion.”
The course even includes a specific college unit, which ties in personal finance to help guide students through college’s arduous journey.
“The college unit covers everything from the cost of college, different types of schools, majors and career paths they lead to, etc.,” Vickery said. “This is included in personal finance because college is a major personal financial decision that many students make. Wherever you go, what you study, and how much it costs will dramatically impact your personal financial life in your early 20s and beyond.”
Some classes touch on financial literacy, such as Finance Park, a short program that introduces students to personal finance in seventh grade, AP Micro/Macroeconomics or the small financial literacy unit in NSL Government. However, the semester-long course taught by Vickery covers everything in an in-depth way instead of it taught in a condensed schedule.
“I think this course is extremely important at WCHS,” Vickery said. “To be financially successful, you need to learn these skills, so it’s good that you’ve learned them now before adulthood. The purpose of this course is to continue that push to get people financially literate, [so I think] it’d be great for the county to require it.”
Some students take health over the summer to clear up their schedule or do not choose personal finance as their second course after their semester-long health class, causing O’Looney’s concern about the course’s reach. Even though the requirement will not come into effect for another two years, Vickery had some suggestions to make it more accessible to current high school students who will not be required to take it.
“WCHS could promote this course more by having social studies teachers that teach the class go around to other classes during registration and discuss the benefits of learning the personal financial/life skill which they learn through the course,” Vickery said. “[Also, now that it is required, the course] could be offered as a two-week credit-bearing course during the summer like it is during the year.”
Although the Financial Literacy Graduation Requirement proposal has not reached its final steps yet to become authorized, the students have spoken: everyone needs to be financially literate, and they will fight for it to happen.
“Our math classes don’t tell us how to build our credit scores. Our English teachers are too busy going over thesis statements to teach us how to apply for financial aid … Montgomery County is fundamentally failing its students when we prepare them to get into colleges and trade schools or go into jobs that they literally cannot afford to pay for,” sophomore Angelina Xu from Richard Montgomery said at the Oct. 26 BOE meeting as testimony regarding the proposal. “It’s time we say yes to financial literacy education and follow in the steps of the eight other Maryland counties that have already implemented this.”