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"A win-win for students and teachers alike": Why Massachusetts Needs a Financial Literacy Mandate

Below is the testimony from FitMoney Executive Director Jessica Pelletier for the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education delivered on October 11, 2023.

Chair Lewis, Chair Garlick, Members of the committee, thank you for bringing us together to discuss the education of our children. I’m here today in support of Financial literacy, one of our most crucial life skills

My name is Jessica Pelletier and I am the Executive Director of FitMoney, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit providing free and accessible financial literacy curriculum to K-12 schools, teachers and families. Last year we supported teachers at over 100 MA schools reaching over 10,000 students. But as you know, that is a mere fraction of our 900,000 students.

The newly released national financial report card attributes 16% of all suicides to financial problems; it tells us that one quarter of non-retired Americans have $0 saved for retirement; 22% of Americans have no emergency savings at all. That is not just their financial burden, it is also ours.

I want to thank Senator O’Connor for his sponsorship of Senate Bill 327 and 328 as well as Representative Durant for House Bill 473. There have been several bills addressing financial literacy education requirements in the past few sessions and I am so pleased that

momentum is building.

The lucky few may learn about money at home from their parents. Some are able to take an elective, and students from less than 20 Mass high schools are required to take financial literacy. This is a vast minority. The most equitable solution is for financial literacy to be taught in all our Massachusetts’ schools. As the recent Boston Globe Magazine noted, “We are among the best in the nation, except for Financial Literacy.”

The alarming statistics representing so much financial failure today show the ramifications of not understanding personal finance decisions at a young age. As one commenter to the above Globe article writes,“Unfortunately the presentations urging people to get into debt are slicker than the presentations on being responsible with your hard earned money.” And the immediate reply from another commenter saying, “I recall bringing my son to [start at] BU, the first thing you saw was a line of booths pushing credit cards.”

I believe all of you here on this Committee agree that financial literacy is a critical life skill. But HOW do we fit this in, WHO can teach it and WHEN do we start are often what brings us to a halt. We can no longer afford to delay. While I am thrilled that almost half the country is preparing their students for confident and competent financial decision making, this Boston Latin School alumna sits here with a sense of pride for our overall education prowess, but disappointment knowing we can do better.

Earlier my colleagues submitted a report that provides examples of how some of the 23 states are implementing financial literacy, whether a half credit stand-alone course or a full credit replacing an elective. There are even more options. FitMoney is proud to receive accreditation from the New Hampshire State Board of Education for our Financially Fit Certificate course, which is completely free for any student and provides yet another option that integrates online tools that compliments school work and aids classroom adoption to meet their new financial literacy requirement. Please notice how I said “free.” No student, teacher or parent has to pay for our course, which is true of all FitMoney resources as well as most other curricula from many similar leading nonprofits. Cost of materials should never be a barrier to learning one of the most critical life skills.

Given that financial literacy has not been part of our education system, it is understandable that many of our own teachers are hesitant to teach this course. I learned of a culinary teacher at a vocational school who was given the full set of financial literacy standards from an eager administrator to the shocked look of, “why me?” Fortunately, there are countless professional development opportunities that are available to EVERY teacher in EVERY district that are free, very high quality, and often result in our educators reporting that THEY feel a much greater sense of confidence in their own personal finance decisions. A win-win for students and teachers alike.

The K-12 journey MUST include financial literacy education for every student in the Commonwealth. Not just those that are fortunate enough to get into the popular elective, or have the opportunity to join a Business Club after school. John Hope Bryant affirmed that financial literacy is a civil rights issue of our generation. The most equitable way we can serve ALL students is to pass mandatory financial literacy education legislation. Thank you.


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