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Connecticut mandates personal finance courses for high school students

Next Gen Personal Finance
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signs Senate Bill 1165 at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington.

Governor Ned Lamont has signed a bill that will make it mandatory for high school students in Connecticut to take a personal finance course before they graduate. At that signing, the Governor said the requirement was, “simply common sense” and the course will, “help give every student a better shot at financial success.” He said, “Financial education is as important as math, science.”

Morning Edition host Tom Kuser speaks with a supporter of Senate Bill 1165.  Barbara Angelicola-Manzolli, is a personal finance teacher at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut. Tom asked her about the efforts to pass the bill and what it will offer students.

TK: Could you tell us what's in Bill 1165 and how will it help students do you think?

 BAM: So let's be honest, none of us learned about personal finance well at home. We learned a little bit and then a lot of it we learned on our own. This bill is going to ensure that every student that goes to a Connecticut high school will have one semester of personal finance. They're gonna get the basics. They're gonna get the basics about budgeting and credit cards and banking and planning for their retirement. I just read an article, it was from Next Gen Personal Finance. And it said that the biggest thing young adults wish they had learned about more before jumping into it was credit cards. So if we can give them a basis to start, then they know to ask questions, then they know to do research. So I have been wanting this. I got my first grant from the state of Connecticut in 2007. To teach personal finance. Here we are in 2023, starting with the graduating class of 2027. And they now we know will have a basis for learning and personal finance. It's important. How can they go into the military to work at a two-year college, a four-year college, take out student loans, buy a car do any of those things without this?
TK: So just so you understand 2027, the graduating class of 2027, meaning this year?

BAM: The freshman coming in will have to have a semester of personal finance. Now, there are lots of schools ours being one of them, that already have that as a graduation requirement. So for those that don't, they're giving them time to be able to set up their curriculum to get there, decide where it's going to be taught out of. And there's so many options, Tom. You can hook up with the state of Connecticut's Community College. It's called the School to Career Pathway program. I teach a personal finance class for a semester, using their book their curriculum. And when my students finish and take the exam, they've earned three college credits. That's one option, we have a regular personal finance class, another option that's a semester, and then we have a full-year consumer math class, that will also give them a math credit. So I foresee schools doing a couple of different things to be able to meet this requirement so that all levels of students are getting it at a level that makes sense to them.

TK: How do you determine, at the end of a semester at the end of a class, that you've been successful in teaching someone how to do this? Because it may take 5, 10,15 years before it really comes to fruition? How do you know they've really ingested what you've taught them about personal finance?

BAM: I am very blessed. I always joke that my students never go away. And they don't. I hear from them all the time. When they buy their first car. They'll tell me, I did this when they're going off to college. When they're buying their first house. I've heard from some of them go, at least I had an idea of what they're talking about. And so on Facebook, I posted a little blurb about the bill and how I was involved, and how excited I was. The outpouring of former students comments about how much this helped them, and how when they went off to college to their jobs, and finding out what people didn't know how much more prepared they felt for what was coming up in life.

TK: Why is there a difference now, in terms of the kind of education students need to understand personal finance versus what what you and I learned?

BAM: Number one, they have more disposable income than you and I ever had at their age. Number two, they are being bombarded by companies and organizations, you know, get this credit card, buy this car. I think keeping up with the Joneses is more peer pressure on them. And if they don't understand that the day they start their first job, they have to start thinking about retirement. You know, my grandfather owned a bakery in Waterbury, he didn't have a retirement plan. He had to be smart with his money. My dad's father worked at Chase Brass in Waterbury. He had a pension his whole life when he retired. Those times are changing. And there are not a lot of guaranteed pensions out there. You have to start putting money away at the very beginning.

I also think they need to learn about this because we all decide to retire at different points in time. Teaching is my second career. I was a human resource professional. By 61. Most teachers have retired. I'm not ready yet. I'm getting there. But I'm not ready yet. So I think that people are working longer. People are not staying in the same job One job forever, and then leaving. And then that piece that we were taught probably at home, how to share your money, whether you're doing that through church communities, whether you're donating to organizations that you believe in, we want that to even be done wisely. You know, I teach students how to go online and look at their favorite organizations to see how much of that dollar is really going towards the charity. And if we teach them to spend that money wisely now that will only carry over to their adult life.

TK: Barbara Angela Coleman Zoli is someone who supported a bill recently signed by Governor Ned Lamont in Connecticut that will mandate for high school students in Connecticut personal finance courses before they graduate. And she is also a personal finance teacher at Lewis s Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut. Thanks so much for your time, your insights, and your teaching here. today. We appreciate it.

BAM: Pleasure to speak with you.

TK: We take a deeper dive into financial literacy on The Full Story podcasts, and you can hear WSHU staff members sharing their financial literacy stories.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
Ann is an editor and senior content producer with WSHU, including the founding producer of the weekly talk show, The Full Story.