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Opinion | Financial education can prepare Michigan grads for adulthood

In recent weeks, the latest throng of high school graduates received their long-awaited, hard-earned diplomas. As these young adults toss their caps in the air, they may be excited for fascinating new possibilities. At the same time, they may feel nervous for new financial responsibilities.

Right now, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is considering my bipartisan plan to teach Michigan students about personal finance – to affirm new graduates’ optimism for their futures.

Diana Farrington
State Rep. Diana Farrington, R-Utica, represents Michigan’s 30th House District, which includes Utica and parts of Sterling Heights and Shelby Township. She chairs the House Committee on Financial Services. (Courtesy photo)

The decisions adults make are far more consequential than the choices faced by most teenagers, and many of these life decisions are related in some way, shape, or form to money – attending college, taking out student loans, getting and holding down a job, using credit cards, saving and investing, renting or buying a house, and more. Even decisions like getting married and having children carry financial implications.

The weight of these decisions alone would be enough to cause new graduates to be a little nervous. But for many, the uncertainty is paired with a deep feeling of unpreparedness. They didn’t learn about financial decision-making in school – an educational gap I’m working to fill.

Graduates should be prepared to manage their personal finances. After all, finances are one of the most basic and universal tasks of adult life; people in all lines of work have to pay the bills. And what is the purpose of education, if not to prepare students for what they’ll do in the future?

At the state Capitol, I’ve been working to achieve that purpose in Michigan schools. The Legislature recently sent House Bill 5190, my proposal to teach financial literacy to high school students, to the governor’s desk. Under my plan, every public school student will earn a half credit in personal finance before graduation. Local school boards will determine how best to incorporate the course into their academic programs.

As I mentioned, graduates will have to make a variety of decisions about their finances when they enter adulthood. A personal finance course will teach future graduates both knowledge about finances generally and skills to manage theirs specifically.

Adding personal finance instruction into high school education has been one of my legislative priorities for several years. I first introduced my plan in 2018. Currently, I chair the House Financial Services Committee, where we work on legislation dealing with issues like financial institutions, credit cards and property. I know how important it is for everyone to have a good understanding of financial entities, accounts, and procedures, as well as the best personal practices for spending and saving their money.

In fact, nearly everyone recognizes how necessary financial education is. According to a recent poll from the National Endowment for Financial Education, 88 percent of American adults support requiring personal finance education for high school graduation.

Michigan legislators, including many former educators, have also demonstrated strong support for financial education, advancing my plan with overwhelming bipartisan approval. My bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 94-13, and the Senate 35-2. This broad-based agreement didn’t happen automatically. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as with interested organizations like the Michigan Education Association, to find common ground.

Our state has a phenomenal opportunity to help Michigan students succeed. Gov. Whitmer should sign my bipartisan plan, so future graduates, as they move their tassels to the left, will be prepared not only to earn a living, but also to manage the living they earn.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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