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Teaching Financial Literacy: Does Your State Make the Grade?

Twenty-six states scored in the C through F range in a new report on financial literacy in high schools. Only five states scored an A.

The report by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Vermont looks at high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine how well they are delivering personal finance education.

statemap.jpgUtah received the highest grade. The report gives the state an A-plus. To earn an A, a state must require personal finance instruction for a minimum of 60 hours in an academic year as a graduation requirement. Only four states other than Utah were given an A: Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia.

States get their spots at the bottom of the list mainly because they don't require public high schools to teach financial literacy. D.C. and 10 states, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, received F's.

Washington state improved its grade from an F to a C. Since the last report in 2015, the state has adopted standards requiring its high schools to offer personal finance education as an elective, though not as a requirement of graduation.

Wisconsin may soon pull up its F grade. Gov. Scott Walker recently signed legislation requiring public school boards to adopt financial literacy standards and make personal finance a part of the K-12 curriculum, reports the Journal Sentinel.

One state, according to the latest report, has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Louisiana's grade has dropped from a B to a D. The state once required high school students to learn at least some personal finance concepts in order to graduate. Now school districts in the state are directed to offer, but not to require, personal finance instruction.

This chart shows how the 2015 and 2017 report cards compare.


Utah has fared well in the center's report card since it was first released in 2013. How did the state shoot to the top of the class? Liana Heitin (now Loewus)  reports in this Education Week article that an impetus for early legislation around financial literacy, which went into effect in 2008, was the state's high bankruptcy rate.

In 2014, Utah passed a law adding requirements to its high school financial literacy course. Among other things, the course must address the cost of going to college, student loans, scholarships, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). State law also requires that students take an end-of-course financial literacy test.

The law also applies to teachers. They must demonstrate expertise in the subject matter, which includes financial planning, credit and investing, consumer economics, and personal and family economics, before they are allowed to teach financial literacy.

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