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D.C. Council Eyes Financial Literacy Elective for Students

In recent years, conversations about gentrification and income inequality have increasingly focused on the need for residents, and youth in particular, to acquire highly lucrative skillsets and learn how to manage their money in order to maintain a presence in their economically vibrant city.

To that end, numerous programs in D.C. public and public charter schools have expanded offerings for college and career readiness. A growing contingent of elected officials and residents, however, have expressed their desire for accompanying coursework that also helps students avoid the perils of financial mismanagement.

“The mantra should never be that D.C. is expensive to live in. Financial literacy opens the door for individuals to understand what they can do,” Christopher London, a D.C. resident and financial advisor, told D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) and at-large Council members David Grosso (I) and Robert White (D) earlier this month during a joint public hearing about the Financial Literacy Education in Schools Amendment Act.

If passed, the Financial Literacy Education in Schools Amendment Act would require the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to develop a financial literacy elective course for 11th and 12th graders to be piloted in all D.C. public high schools during the 2020-2021 academic year.

White introduced the legislation in April with the support of eight council colleagues and people like London who taught financial literacy at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest for the past couple of years.

“I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities through my financial literacy. D.C. has the best to offer every individual in every quadrant, but we have to be committed to it,” London said Nov. 6. “Most people with master’s degrees don’t understand their own financial situation. We have to begin to look at innovative ways to teach our children, or be left behind.”

Since the turn of the century, more than 20,000 Black D.C. residents had been displaced, a March study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found. The District leads several U.S. cities in this arena because housing values have outpaced the median incomes. In 2009, amid a recession, the District experienced more than 4,000 foreclosures. Several hundred people since then have also filed for bankruptcy.

Proponents of mandatory financial literacy instruction say that it increases the likelihood that young people will invest in a personal and retirement savings and avoid high-interest borrowing. Currently, 22 states require high school financial literacy courses while seven offer standardized testing in that area.

In a 2014 report, the District of Columbia Financial Literacy Council, a body comprising D.C. Public Schools and city government officials, an ANC commissioner, and private-sector finance companies recommended the appointment of a financial education policy director and the adoption of technologically relevant financial literacy curricula in public and public charter schools.

The changes to curricula since — the addition of economics as an elective for example — haven’t totally been to the liking of some finance industry mavens. Last year, the District and 10 states received an “F” score from the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy due to what had been described as the lack of personal finance content infused into the core social studies curriculum and standardized testing.

For White, financial literacy education, in tandem with other methods of protecting the District’s most vulnerable, can help level the playing field.

Days after the joint hearing, he said financial literacy coursework should eventually be infused in the core curriculum of every grade level — well beyond what his legislation currently outlines.

“Adding personal finance topics to the curriculum is not going to solve all of the financial issues our residents face,” White told The Informer. “It is only one piece of a complex puzzle. It is a starting point and we have to keep working on other methods to combat the financial instability our residents face, especially with the high cost of living in the District.

“Teaching students financial concepts like saving, investing, and credit make them more prepared for the real world and help them learn before they make any major mistakes,” he said.

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