The 2017 National Report Card on Financial Literacy in High Schools gave Nebraska a “C” grade related to personal finance education. This same study offered “A” grades to five states and a “B” grade to 19 others. Last September, the Nebraska Department of Education (DOE) issued a public interest survey in relation to Nebraska’s current Social Studies Standards in our schools, which first incorporated basic requirements related to personal finance when last updated in 2012. While the NBA encouraged membership participation, unfortunately, the survey structure, detail and design were challenging for those not directly trained or knowledgeable about the current Standards and educational curriculum development, and thus private sector input was limited. The good news, however, is that the DOE remains open to additional input.
In response, the NBA recently sent the Nebraska DOE a comprehensive list of suggested additions/alterations to their Social Studies Standards. To provide background on our motive in doing so, here is what the research states: Currently, 22 states in the U.S. require students to complete a course in economics while 17 states mandate a course in personal finance as a graduation requirement. Recent research conducted by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education (NCEE) found that only 210 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts offer a personal finance class. Of these, 95 districts require completion of a personal finance class for graduation. These 95 districts account for approximately 60 percent of Nebraska’s total student population. While the names of the individual districts were not included in the NCEE research, we have learned that district size does not seem to be a limiting factor. In addition, conversations with many educators across the state suggest that requiring a personal finance class is not necessarily a question of resources, but rather a question of prioritization.
Based on the interaction bankers have with their many customers across Nebraska, it is evident a need exists to further increase the rigor of personal finance training in all Nebraska schools through enhanced school standards and/or legislative direction. A plausible option would be to amend Rule X to require all Nebraska students to take a semester-long personal finance class in their sophomore/junior year, coupled with curriculum direction in all other grades. Fortunately, legislation regarding this issue is expected to be introduced in the current session of the Nebraska Legislature, which began Jan. 9.
I understand and appreciate the many social and cultural challenges as well as the regulatory demands placed on Nebraska schools and educators. While understanding complex mathematic principles is an important skill in growing one’s mind, for example, we must also recognize that few students will utilize those skills in their future careers. From a practical perspective, the banking community knows that acquiring a strong personal finance skill set is essential to prepare Nebraska students for the future. Personal financial decisions will impact every student at every turn, regardless of their background, educational attainment, socioeconomic status or career tract. One needs to look no further than the current student loan crisis in our country to understand how a lack of sound personal financial decision making is inhibiting the future success of our students, graduates and ultimately our state’s economy.
The NBA’s original letter to the DOE contained 21 suggestions for their Standards on what the department could evaluate differently and what we feel is imperative to teach Nebraska students. For brevity’s sake, I have condensed the list to 10 suggestions we provided. Ideally, the DOE’s Social Studies Standards should be written so students leaving high school are equipped with the skills to:
Just as our members banks have done for years, our plan is to continue to monitor and work to improve our state’s economic health, the backbone of the financial literacy level of our next generations. We will also continue to provide access to online training tools like EverFi, visit local classrooms when asked, conduct tours of our banks and provide teaching aids as requested.
In addition, the NBA and our member institutions remain committed to working with the Nebraska education community to strengthen the financial understanding of our students and to make them both career- and life-ready.
Until next time,
Richard J. Baier
Richard Baier, a proud husband, father of two, and the president/CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association (NBA). Avid about growing the Cornhusker State's banking industry.