Have you ever learned a new life skill and thought, Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when I was younger?
That’s how a lot of people feel the first time they hear the truth about smart money habits. It’s really exciting to learn how to win with money, no matter your age. But if you’re already an adult when you get the facts, it’s easy to wish you’d learned them earlier.
For future generations, there’s good news: A growing number of states are requiring high school students to take a stand-alone course in personal finance for graduation. In April 2018, Kentucky became the sixth state to make it mandatory, joining Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.(1)
And much of the credit for the new Kentucky law goes to educator Alex Todd.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Learn This in High School?
As a passionate educator who’s taught for 20 years, Alex has devoted 10 of those to teaching Ramsey Education’s Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum at Elizabethtown High School in Kentucky. When he discovered the curriculum in 2008, it made such a profound impression on him that he began a campaign to get this life-changing material in front of as many young people as possible.
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“As I watched the videos, I began seeing these reactions from my kids every day where they were saying, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ I heard one student in particular saying he was going to try it and I thought, ‘If this reaches that kid, we have a shot here.’”
That’s when Alex started thinking about how this course could impact more lives. After a great first semester, he requested to teach personal finance again; his school administrators agreed, and even more students enrolled the second time it was offered. From there, even the students’ parents got on board with Alex’s vision.
“Their parents kept saying the same thing: ‘I wish we had learned this subject when we were in high school.’ Now sometimes, you’ll hear that kind of thing without thinking much about it, but when they talked about our personal finance course, they had a look in their eyes and something in their voice.”
With students, administrators and parents seeing and believing in the value of this course, the ultimate goal became clear to Alex: He wanted to help make personal finance a graduation requirement for students in his state.
Overcoming an Almost Impossible Challenge
Initially, Alex believed that a group with more experience would be better suited to work with lawmakers and handle the process of making personal finance education a requirement for students. But getting traction for his proposal to change state law turned out to be harder than he expected.
“I spent three or four years trying to hand it off to different organizations,” Alex said. “But I had trouble getting support. I realized I couldn’t let this project depend on others because they didn’t have it in their veins the way the kids and I did. It hit me that no one’s going to care about this issue as much as I do.”
Knowing it was up to him to make the case to lawmakers, Alex took charge of the effort.
Alex strived to get in touch with a couple of state lawmakers in hopes they would influence the outcome of his dream. And he knew he would need to do his part in casting the right vision.
He says there were a few key factors that helped him convince the lawmakers of the value of adding a personal finance course as a graduation requirement:
- He was an educator with experience teaching the subject.
- Were the requirement to become law, he “didn’t have anything personal to gain” from the program.
- He showed lawmakers the data from two surveys he’d had the foresight to give his students. The surveys assessed their understanding of money—one before taking the course and one after. The results clearly proved the course was helping his students grow in their understanding of personal finance.
- He compiled written testimonies from the students.
“I had two rock star legislators, both from Elizabethtown, who helped me get this done: Senator Dennis Parrett and State Representative Jim DuPlessis. They were remarkable.”
After three tries, the House and Senate passed the bill in 2018. It was signed into law by Governor Matt Bevin in April. The new requirement will go into effect for Kentucky’s class of 2020. Going forward, all Kentucky high school graduates will enter college or the workforce with a solid understanding of the key concepts of personal finance.
How Could You Make a Personal Finance Impact on Students?
Alex believes the timing of the new personal finance requirement couldn’t be better—especially considering the two looming financial problems our economy is facing—making this course more vital than ever.
“Right now we’re all facing two big issues: a retirement crisis and a student loan crisis. And both of those are potential train wrecks. So knowing how money works is an essential skill for young people to succeed.”
He’s hopeful that Kentucky’s new law will help its citizens and families proactively tackle those potential problems and make better financial decisions in the future.
But what about you or the teachers in your life? What steps might you be able to take to bring this kind of life-changing curriculum to students in your own state? It’s possible! In fact, Alex has some advice for teachers looking to have a similar statewide impact.
“Don’t let up. I often wondered, ‘Why am I wasting my time when it seems like it will never happen?’ It took us 10 years, but it happened. So if you’re just starting out trying to get this required in your own state’s schools, I’d say your biggest strength is your own voice. Others will help you along the way, but ultimately you’re the person to help your students.”
He also emphasized a few steps of action you can take:
- Invite legislators or other influencers in your state to visit your classroom.
- Call your state treasurer and share your vision with them. They are likely to understand the importance of financial literacy for your state’s welfare.
- Find a rock star politician who can give your plan momentum and help you to see it through.
- Look for local businesses to partner with, and see if they might sponsor your promotional efforts to spread the word. (An area bank sponsored a website for Alex’s efforts.)
- Use social media to announce the facts about personal finance, the need for financial literacy in high schools, the details of any proposed bills, and how to contact legislators to show support.
Want to learn more about the curriculum that ignited this passion in Alex? Visit RamseyEducation.com to learn how you can bring this life-changing personal finance curriculum to your school and start changing the way the next generation thinks about money!