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Financial literacy school classes get boost, could soon be taught at younger age levels

SNOHOMISH — Jakob Diepenbrock knows the importance of financial literacy.
As a senior last year at Glacier Peak High School, Diepenbrock started the Young Investor’s Club due to frustration at how little most of his peers understood about money.
“The vast majority of people coming out of high school don’t know how credit cards work,” said the current Northeastern University freshman. “They have no investments. They don’t know how to buy stocks.”
Diepenbrock was mostly self-educated. A new state grant program, however, will help future students learn financial literacy in public classrooms.
Beginning in April, school districts may apply for a one-year grant to train staff in financial literacy education.
To qualify districts must pledge to integrate at least seven hours of financial literacy education into their in-person professional development schedules for the year they receive the grant.
The grants will be allocated at $7.50 per enrolled student, and are available for the 2023-24, 2024-25, and 2025-26 school years.
They are administered by the Financial Education Public-Private Partnership (FEPPP), which the state Legislature created in 2004 to improve and advocate for financial education in Washington schools.
“This would be the largest investment our state has ever made to help kids leave school with basic financial knowledge,” said state Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah). He sponsored a bill that directed FEPPP to start the grant program.
With additional staff training, districts could expand financial education to elementary schools and strengthen secondary courses to align with state competency standards for financial literacy.
The hope, said FEPPP Executive Director Tracy Godat, is that districts can “identify opportunities within current programs and/or instruction that are sustainable over time.”
“Financial knowledge is so important,” said Kelly Rogers, who teaches a College/Career Readiness Seminar at Everett’s Cascade High. “If we want to send students out in the world ready to be independent, successful young adults, understanding how the world works in a financial sense is such a huge part of that.”
Rogers’ course covers financial literacy, including credit scores, budgeting, and distinguishing between needs and wants. Guest speakers such as Kevin Giboney, an insurance agency owner with several years of investment experience, stress the importance of career choices and saving for retirement.
High school students want to be able to make educated decisions about how they spend and save money, Rogers said.
“I have students who have seen or heard adults in their lives struggling with bills or credit, or living paycheck to paycheck — and want to do it differently,” said Rogers. “And they absolutely can.”
Mara Williams, who runs Success Steet Coaching in Snohomish, believes financial education should begin as early as possible.
“There’s a lot they understand at kindergarten,” she said. “The sweet spot is fourth through sixth grade, because the decision-making process comes in and they’re really getting it.”
Many school districts, including Everett and Snohomish, offer high school classes that include financial education in various ways.
Everett has the seminar that Rogers teaches, which is a graduation requirement. Snohomish offers Personal Finance, Business Math, and Math in Society courses.
But Washington is not among 17 states that require financial literacy for high school graduation.
“At this time, we are not advocating for a graduation requirement; rather, assistance in integrating financial education into programs, classes, and courses that currently exist,” said Godat. “The grant will allow professional development for educators which will benefit districts for years.”
Across the continent, Diepenbrock figuratively applauded the grant program.
Students can become financially literate on their own, but most aren’t self-motivated, he said. They need the structure of classes.
“A lot of people don’t plan ahead,”: Diepenbrock said. “They don’t realize it’s better to start (investing) now.”
He has established college chapters of the Young Investors Club, which he said is still focused on reaching high school students and others who lack learning resources, and he welcomes students to reach out to his email address,
At Cascade High, Rogers has already seen students open Individual Retirement Accounts, get credit cards and make investments after taking the college readiness seminar.
“They really do feel empowered that they can be in control of their finances,” the instructor said, “and that managing their money doesn’t have to be stressful.”



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