Financial education is taking center stage at many colleges, high schools, middle schools—even some kindergarten classrooms. And the Oval Office is driving the cause.
In proclaiming April as National Financial Capability Month, President Obama said the White House would "renew our drive to give all Americans the tools to navigate the financial world and gain the economic freedom to pursue their own measure of happiness."
The president reestablished an advisory council earlier this year to counsel him on the most effective strategies to teach kids the basics of finance.
John Rogers, who chairs the president's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, said: "We think we can get young people started as early as first grade. We want to get people involved and engaged so they can build financial capability over time. The same way they get language skills, math skills, science skills that build over time. You want your financial literacy skills to build in the same way."
Rogers is also chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, one of the nation's top money-management firms. He believes children should learn about the financial markets from a young age, just like he did: Rogers was 12 years old when, instead of toys, his father starting buying him stocks for every birthday and every Christmas.
As the founder of Ariel Community Academy, a top-performing K–8 public school in Chicago where financial education is a key component of the curriculum, Rogers knows firsthand how this approach works.
Many studies show most Americans agree financial education is a good thing, yet it is not taught in most schools.
A 2014 survey by the Council for Economic Education found only 17 schools require high school students to take a personal finance course, and only six require them to be tested on these concepts. While the White House cannot mandate that financial education become mandatory in schools, Rogers said the advisory council is encouraging cities and states to look at other model financial education programs.
Most Americans don't have a budget, and 41 percent gave themselves a C, D, or F when it came to financial know-how, according to a recent survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Rogers said the president's advisory council is aiming to raise the grade for children—and their parents.
"One of the things we're going to be working on is finding some pilot cities to get some real firsthand knowledge of how different programs can work and what works best," Rogers said.
He points to San Francisco's Kindergarten to College program as one example that has shown significant promise since launching in 2012. Every child in kindergarten in the city's public schools is automatically given $50 to deposit into a college savings account. Parents, family and friends are encouraged to save in the account as well.
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