Financial literacy may become a graduation requirement for Washington state students


OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers unanimously passed a bill last week that would make financial education a graduation requirement, an attempt to address poor financial decisions young people make because they lack financial literacy.

"Most of us are brought up learning that we need money to survive, but not learning how to manage money to thrive," Ashwin Joshi, a Southridge High School student, said in public testimony on Jan. 15.

House Bill 1915, sponsored by Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, passed in the House Thursday after garnering bipartisan support, with more than 55 initial sponsors, an unusually high number for a single bill. The bill now awaits action in the Senate.

"I see high quality education increasing opportunities in people's lives and helping people lift out of poverty," Rude said in an interview.

According to a 2021 study by FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 47% of adults do not have a rainy-day fund or money set aside for unexpected expenses.

For HB 1915, some lawmakers expressed concern over the credit requirement for graduation. Currently, high school students need 24 credits to graduate, and many of those credits are in core subjects such as language arts, social studies, math and science.

However, Rude says the bill was designed to give districts the flexibility to fit financial education into their curriculum to avoid conflict with credits.

Districts and schools could take multiple avenues to administer the requirement, such as offering financial education as an elective, a mastery-based learning project, a Career and Technical Education class or as part of an existing class such as math.

According to Rude, there are schools in his district that  go beyond what the bill would require by offering one full credit of financial education to students.

There are also plenty of resources available to educators through the state's Financial Education Public-Private Partnership, which focuses on expanding financial education. The group is housed under the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, but operates separately.

By bringing in the public and private sectors, FEPPP can provide resources for public school teachers, according to FEPPP Executive Director Tracy Godat. It also reviews existing curricula and shows teachers how to apply them in the classroom.

"We're not just training teachers, teachers are training students and students train their parents." said Pam Whalley, associate director of FEPPP. "There is research that shows that this kind of learning is going across generations."

High school students learn about credit cards, debt, budgeting and other skills to hit learning standards developed by the JumpStart Coalition and the Council for Economic Education, two organizations focused on developing financial education.

While a district can choose its curriculum, FEPPP vets and recommends curricula along with books, games, activities and videos on its website.

"We also perform bias and sensitivity analysis, because we know that students from different backgrounds come to financial education from different places," Whalley said.

In 2022, the legislature passed a bill establishing a grant program that provides professional development training for educators looking to integrate financial literacy into their curriculum.

"We've been very intentional to take the guesswork out for the educators so it doesn't feel like they're overwhelmed on where to even start," Godat said.

Students graduating high school in 2031 would be required to have a financial education credit, meaning the subject would be a required offering as early as the 2027-2028 school year. Godat said the timeline would give districts time to choose a curriculum and train teachers.

If the bill does not receive a hearing in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee  by March 1, it will not survive the session.

"I wish I had financial education in school and as I'm working through this bill I'm reminded of that comment all the time," Rude said.