VIDEO: Worries over financial literacy education in the Illinois

By Andrew Fowler

April is National Financial Literacy Month, which has some worried that Illinois legislators may not be doing enough to promote finance education in the state.

According to a report released last year from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, teenagers in the United States ranked only ninth out of 18 countries tested in financial literacy.

financial literacy global rankings (OECD)
The U.S. ranked 9th out of 18 countries tested in financial literacy.


Money Smart week, created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, is a weeklong series of events to boost financial literacy among adults and teens. On April 18, high school student, Spencer Goodman, presented at a financial management class for young adults. Goodman will be graduating in May and said he did not learn about financial literacy from his school.

“I think they expect us to pick up that knowledge naturally, which shouldn’t be the case,” Goodman said.

Goodman said that the lack of financial education classes at his school is a problem because he does not think his classmates are prepared for the financial independence and challenges that college life will bring. He said he was fortunate because he learned about building credit, saving and investing from his mother, Sherri Griffith, who was the main speaker at the Money Smart Week event.  Griffith works at New York Life Insurance Company.

“When I was in school we had health class and we had Home [economics] classes that taught us budgeting and talked to us about these sorts of things,” Griffith said. “So we’ve got to bring that concept of financial literacy back into the schools.”

Mother son team teach financial literacy
Sherri Griffith and her son, Spencer Goodman, present at a Money Smart Week event. (Andrew Fowler/Medill)

According to a 2014 report from the Council for Economic Education, which monitors policies and legislation in states, Illinois is among the states that do not require finance education classes to be either offered or taken.

The Illinois State Board of Education does have consumer education requirements on the books that students must complete before graduating high school.

“It should be a course that lasts at least nine weeks and covers a lot of basic concepts for financial literacy,” Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said. “Everything from opening a bank account to balancing a check book.”

Those requirements are for public schools in the state, not private ones like Goodman’s high school.

“In terms of education, throughout my full four years of high school, I had to almost look for outside sources of help and knowledge about being financially stable,” Goodman said.

Nationally the Council of Economic Education reports that 19 states require a financial literacy course to be offered in high school and 17 states require a financial literacy course to be taken before high school graduation. Both of those numbers are up from 2011. Still only six states require those concepts to be tested.

Photo at top: Students asked questions of Sherri Griffith from New York Life Insurance Company during a Money Smart Week event. (Andrew Fowler/Medill)


In Chicago, watch Medill Reports video stories on CAN-TV channel 27