There is growing awareness in Wisconsin that for students to be successful in life, they need to understand how to make smart financial decisions.
A bill that would require a personal finance course to graduate high school was introduced in the state Legislature but didn’t make it through this session.
However, there is already work happening in districts like Milwaukee Public Schools to increase financial literacy. MPS started offering a standalone personal finance class in three high schools last fall and has expanded it this semester to 12 schools. For the MPS class of 2028, personal finance will be a graduation requirement.
“They give daily lessons on different finance topics like banking, budgeting, investing, insurance, credit management, taxes,” says MPS financial literacy teacher mentor Marti Diaz. “And students have the opportunity to learn about these topics but also apply them to their own lives.”
Economics professor Rebecca Neumann has spearheaded personal finance education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Neumann also works with SecureFutures, a nonprofit focused on teen financial literacy.
“Personal finance is really about planning for the future,” Neumann says. “Really a lot of what we’re trying to do is help students to avoid costly mistakes. It’s much easier to get into trouble with things like credit these days, and it’s much harder to get out of.”
Neumann says increasing financial literacy is important for people of all ages. “There are a number of different surveys out there that show that people are really struggling with their finances,” says Neumann. “Some of the surveys show that more than half of individuals live paycheck to paycheck and about 51% of individuals in Wisconsin lack any sort of emergency savings they can tap into.”
Neumann and Diaz say students who take personal finance courses generally appreciate how applicable it is to their own lives. “The big feedback I received is, ‘This is about me, personal finance is about me,'” says Diaz.
Diaz says students also report going home and talking to their families about what they’re learning. She hopes the financial literacy information trickles down into the community.
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