Financial literacy is the ability to use knowledge and skills to make effective and informed money-management decisions. Personal financial literacy includes everything from balancing a checkbook to long-term retirement planning. While literacy – the ability to read and write – is a fundamental part of the education system, financial literacy is often left out of the curriculum. In fact, a report from The Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College found that 26 states received grades of C, D or F for producing the most financially literate high-school students. How did your state do? Read on.

Financial Literacy Report Cards

The 2015 National Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools (the most recent available) is based on a review of financial-literacy legislation summaries kept by the National Conference of State Legislatures from 1999 to 2015. The data were compiled by the JumpStart Coalition on Personal Financial Literacy and the Council for Economic Education's 2014 Survey of the States, with additional research to address inconsistencies between among sources or where further information was warranted.

The report grades each state based on its efforts to teach the ABCs of financial literacy to high-school students. Note: There is no national effort to track financial education at the elementary and middle school levels, nor at the college level. In true school fashion, the report rates each state with a letter grade (see the grade requirements at the bottom of the article.)

Who Made the Grade

A  The state requires personal finance instruction as a graduation requirement that is equal to a one-semester, half-year course (minimum of approximately 60 hours of personal finance instruction in an academic year). 

Five states earned an A on the report card: Alabama, Tennessee, Utah, Missouri and Virginia. Of these, Alabama and Virginia require 60 hours of instruction dedicated to personal finance. Tennessee and Utah require a half-year stand-alone personal finance course. In Missouri leaves it up to the local school districts to decide whether to offer personal finance as a full- or half-year course. 

B  The state mandates personal finance education as part of a required course. In some of these states, local school districts determine whether the personal finance instruction requirement is met through a stand-alone course offering or embedded in another course.

Earning a B on the report card were 20 states:  Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. In general, states with a B grade include personal-finance topics in their instructional guidelines, and require local school districts to put them into practice. To graduate from high school in a B state, students must take a course that covers personal-finance topics. Courses that may include these topics: civics, economics, family and consumer sciences, business, and mathematics.

Source: 2015 National Report Card, Champlain College, Center for Financial Literacy

Room for Improvement

C  The state has substantive personal finance topics in its academic standards that the local school districts are expected to teach. Implementation is left to local school districts with no material oversight by the state. There is no specific delivery mechanism identified for financial literacy instruction. A state may also receive a C grade if it requires a stand-alone personal finance elective course. 

Eleven states earned a C on the report card: Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Oregon. In these states, personal-finance courses are offered as an elective, and student assessments are not required. It is up to local school boards to determine how these topics are integrated into the classroom. Lack of accountability means it is unclear how these state determine if local schools are meeting the requirements.

D The state has modest levels of personal finance education in its academic standards that local school districts are expected to teach. Implementation is left to local school districts with no material oversight by the state. There is no specific delivery mechanism identified for financial literacy instruction.  

Three states received a D grade: Montana, Vermont and Wyoming. In these states, personal-finance topics are typically taught as an elective, with no requirement for student assessment, though many schools don't offer any such courses at all.

F  The state has virtually no requirements for personal finance education in high school. High school students in these states are able to graduate from high school without ever having the opportunity to take a course that includes financial literacy instruction. 

Eleven states and Washington DC earned an F, the lowest score possible. The states –  Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and District of Columbia – have few or no requirements for personal-finance education at the high-school level.  Rhode Island, for example, does not include the subject in the state's educational standards and has no personal-finance requirement. Connecticut's failing grade is due in part to the fact that – despite ten attempts since 2007 to legislate bills to include financial literacy in its schools, all but one failed to pass. The bill that did pass only requires the Board of Education to make financial literacy curriculums available.

The Bottom Line

Parents and schools should note the report's "Five Keys to Success" in high-school financial literacy:

1. Financial literacy topics must be taught in a course that students are required to take as a graduation requirement.

2. Teacher training is critical. To effectively educate our students about personal finance, we need confident, well-trained educators.

3. Funding is needed to ensure that these classes are offered to all high school students.

4. In order to make sure that the high school classroom personal finance training is working, we need to give students quality standard assessments on knowledge and behaviors.

5. Educators need easy access to quality curriculum, lesson plans, calculators, videos, games, applications, activities, projects, case studies, articles and expert volunteer speakers. This can often be provided to educators online by the state.

If you do favor financial-literacy training, be aware that support is not universal.While proponents believe the training can help students make better financial choices now and in the future, opponents argue that financial literacy education does not work, or that it increases confidence without improving ability. Students who know "just enough to be dangerous" could make worse decisions. That's why high quality personal finance education, which cultivates both confidence and ability, is paramount.

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