The outcomes from a single line of text
There are twice as many words on the U.S. dollar bill than there are in the entire Wisconsin financial literacy mandate just signed into law by the governor.
In a single line of text, the financial fortunes of Wisconsin’s young people will change, effective immediately. As I’ve stated since the mandate was signed into law in late November 2017, we are emphatic in our support of this and other measures that move the needle on stronger, smarter financial behaviors for our young people. However, there remains a lot left unsaid in that single line of mandate text.
One of those important aspects of financial education not touched on by the state mandate relates to outcomes. Namely, finding out from students on what they know, what they don’t and how much they learned along the way.
A point of pride from my 12 years at SecureFutures (formerly Make A Difference – Wisconsin) has been the adoption of regular surveys and tracking with students in our programs. With these assessments, woven into our lesson time, I now know that, say, 81% of students have utilized savings and money management tips due to our Money Sense program. In our Money Coach program, I know that 78% of students keep a budget, and that every single one of them since 2013 has a bank account. (Students like Pao, above at right, a senior at JMAC shown working with his Money Coach volunteer, Antonio Forte)
These outcomes do more than give us the chance to brag about the fantastic kids we work with across the state; they help us mold the programs so that we’re providing high-quality personal finance that is relevant to teens. Only through these outcomes does our program team have such a unique viewpoint from which to build curriculum that, for instance, spends time on the latest online payment methods. We actually started our intensive mentoring program, Money Coach, in part because of these outcomes. (You can check out all of our program outcomes in this PDF of our latest annual report.)
As districts, school boards and administrators size up financial literacy standards that are right for their students, it’s my hope that traction emerges for ensuring quality outcomes from these new and evolving lessons. It will certainly take time and energy, especially this first school year under the mandate. But every step toward verifiably positive financial behaviors for our young people will be an investment in our communities, with “returns” in the form of more emergency savings, and higher credit scores. And our organization will certainly stand with educators as this financial empowerment movement enters its next exciting phase.
The teens we work with are just making their first decisions with money. For most of them, there is a quick understanding on how far a dollar can go when it is saved and spent wisely. The mandate signed into law by the state of Wisconsin may not have as many words as a dollar bill. But through action, partnerships and outcomes, our financial empowerment movement can make an expansive impact that lasts for teens across Wisconsin.