Ellie Costas, a 17-year-old high school student from San Marcos, is already using what she learns in high school.
She learned to file her taxes for her part-time jobs at a retail store and at Legoland. And the personal finance course she’s taking has convinced her to stop spending all her earnings on impulse shopping and eating out and put money aside for her college fund.
His classmate Emiliano Damian, 17, learned how to choose a credit card, earn rewards points and build a good credit score by paying off his credit card on time.
Another classmate, 16-year-old Ty Turner, learned he could earn $1 million when he retires, thanks to compound interest, as long as he starts saving and investing early for retirement.
“If you start saving for retirement much earlier than everyone else, you get a lot more money than everyone else,” he said.
All of these students say they love their new personal finance course, which debuted last fall. Unlike other courses they have taken, it is clear that this will be useful to them in their daily lives.
“You know, when you’re learning math or language arts, sometimes it can be hard to understand why you’re learning something? This class teaches real-world things that everyone knows are valuable,” Emiliano said. “I feel like everyone is paying attention for their own good, rather than blundering in class because no one sees the point in learning, like geometry.”
Tara Razi is an American history teacher who has been teaching for nine years. She created San Marcos High’s first personal finance class this school year, amid the pandemic, to help students avoid the financial gaffes she’s seen other people make, like racking up too much debt.
Razi prides herself on being financially independent. She got her first job at 14, then worked full-time at Chili’s while teaching and tutoring, and has since paid for her car and bought a house at 28.
“I’m really proud of the financial stability I’ve been able to create for myself in life,” she said, “and I always felt that was information that needed to be shared with the next generation of people. ‘students.’
“It was like an awakening”
Razi is one of several thousand teachers in California who teach personal finance, a class that class advocates say is crucial to helping students avoid poverty and debt, achieve financial freedom and being an adult in general – but not offered in enough schools.
At first, Razi planned to offer part of the class, perhaps to around 40 students. But the class has become so popular that it now has six sections with 220 students, and Razi has had to recruit another teacher to teach it.
During a stock unit, Ty said he and his classmates created stock portfolios and competed to see who could make the most money in a month.
During a unit on entrepreneurship, Ty worked with a classmate to start a pizza food truck business. Ty called the landlords and asked how much they would charge for renting commercial space, and he spoke with Bank of America to see how much of a commercial loan he could get.
After studying clips of Shark Tank in class, the two students pitched their food truck idea to their teacher and the superintendent of San Marcos, who both said they would invest in their project if they were investors in capital risk.
In Razi’s class, Ty pre-registered to vote, wrote a cover letter and resume, and applied for a job as a barista.
“When little kids talk about how there should be, like, helpful classes…that class is that class,” Ty said.
Before taking Razi’s course, Ellie said she wasn’t saving her money. She had already been told she needed to save, she said, but no one told her why until Razi did.
At one point in class, she went over all of her spending transactions with Razi and realized that she was spending her paychecks on “random stuff” and restaurants.
“After hearing what (Razi) had to say, it was like a wake up call for me,” Ellie said, “I may be 17, but I need to start saving for bigger things in life. If I hadn’t learned this in class, I would have started saving too late or I wouldn’t have saved at all.
Razi also teaches what she calls “life hacks,” things most of her students haven’t learned because they spend so much of their lives on their phones.
She taught them how to address an envelope, write a check, sew on a button, write a thank you note and sign their names on documents.
“It’s going to sound crazy but they never practiced signing because growing up we used to go with our parents and watch them sign things. But now the kids are at home or on their phone,” Razi said.
Razi said high schools are good at preparing kids for college, but they often don’t teach practical life skills like managing money and credit.
“You can be very smart and academically successful on a college campus, but once you leave that campus, do you know how to make sure you have enough money in your account to pay your bills,” she said. demand. “Do you know what to look for when choosing a credit card? Do you know what an interest rate is?
49th in the country
Personal finance courses aren’t prevalent in California, in part because the state doesn’t require it as a course for graduation.
According to Next Generation Personal Finance, a nonprofit in Palo Alto, less than 1% of high school students in California attend a school that requires it, which offers a free financial literacy program and teacher training.
According to the nonprofit, only one in four high school students in California attends a school that offers personal finance as an option. In contrast, across the country, 70% of high school students attend a school that offers a course in personal finance.
That’s why Next Generation ranks California 49th among states in personal finance education.
“In conversations with (California) lawmakers, the response is usually, ‘Well, the districts can decide to come up with that if they want.’ Obviously, that’s not happening,” said Tim Ranzetta, founder of Next Generation Personal Finance “Other states seem to believe in having a choice.”
When Razi was creating her personal finance class, she said she had to push for it to be a separate class, rather than incorporating personal finance into another class like economics.
She said the district’s budgetary reasons also likely limit personal finance course offerings; since this is an elective course in California, it is likely given lower priority than state-required courses for graduation.
For years, state officials have disputed the claim that they don’t provide enough personal finance education. Financial literacy topics are included as part of the state’s curriculum for economics, a one-semester class the state requires for high school graduation.
In 2013, state legislators mandated that financial literacy topics such as budgeting and managing personal credit, student loans, and debt be included as part of the state social science curriculum. A state law passed in 2016 required that more financial literacy topics be included the next time the state revises its social science framework, currently scheduled for 2026.
The curriculum framework is a set of guidelines, not requirements, that school districts and charter schools must follow, said Scott Roark, spokesman for the California Department of Education.
Personal finance advocates say economics courses focus more on high-level monetary policy, rather than personal finance strategies for use in everyday life. Ranzetta said integrating personal finance into an economics course often means it becomes an afterthought that doesn’t get as much time and attention as it needs.
Ellie, who is enrolled in a government/economics course, said it taught her how government regulates money and other large-scale topics such as inflation, the stock market and the Federal Reserve.
But the class doesn’t talk about money on a personal level.
“They never really get into how it’s going to affect us, what personal finance does,” Ellie said.
State officials also objected to requiring a personal finance course because, they say, California emphasizes local control, which means school districts and charter schools have a significant degree of freedom in deciding what to teach students.
“Most states will say ‘local control,’ but aren’t we deciding that math is important enough that every school has to teach four years of math?” Ranzetta asked.
California did not hesitate to impose certain courses. Last year, the state made ethnic studies a course requirement for high school graduation.