School Zone: How financial literacy is making its way into DC-area school curricula

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

Which DC-area school systems have financial literacy graduation requirements?

What it is?: Recent grads may feel that they’ve mastered many subjects, but perhaps might struggle with common finance needs, such as managing a budget or understanding what the heck a 401(k) is.

School officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, this week said they won’t introduce a financial literacy course requirement for students for now — but did decide to explore ways to make finance concepts available to students.

Twelve states, including Virginia, require high school students to take a financial literacy course before graduation. In Virginia, the 9th grade class in 2011 became the first required to take a one-credit economics and personal finance course, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

In Maryland, some school systems have introduced a financial literacy graduation requirement, but the state does not include it in graduation criteria. Bills aimed at making a finance course a requirement have failed in the Maryland General Assembly.

The state’s Department of Education said that beginning in September 2011, finance concepts need to be included in the curricula for grades 3-12, but an isolated finance course isn’t required.

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In D.C., a school system spokesman told me financial literacy isn’t a requirement. Seven schools currently offer financial literacy as a course, and 10 city schools offer an Algebra class that includes similar concepts.

What it means: Proponents of implementing a requirement say that the course better prepares students for life after high school.

In some cases, students learn how to manage a budget, organize a stock portfolio and research salaries for their desired careers.

In Montgomery County, Board of Education members expressed concerns about the impact a requirement could have on teaching assignments, among other things.

Regional Snapshot: All Virginia high schools have the requirement, and Prince George’s County in Maryland will introduce the requirement next year. Charles and Frederick counties in Maryland are among the school systems in Maryland to require financial literacy courses.

Talking points: Kaelyn Stieg, a business teacher in Frederick County, Maryland, says the school system offers several finance classes. She told me the goal is to equip students with the skills they’ll need as young adults.

Stieg’s students participate in a stock market game, during which they have to monitor progress over time. There’s also a budget challenge, which involves students making decisions about a budget with fictional life events influencing those choices.

A student entrepreneurial competition, similar to Shark Tank, is also popular among students.

The county is working to incorporate lessons on cybercurrencies like Bitcoin, since they’re becoming more popular, Stieg says.

On an end-of-year survey, Stieg asks students if they feel like they learned skills they’ll use in the future.

“It’s unanimously yes, they feel like they really have a better understanding of just basic concepts or terminology to get them started,” she told me.

Jared Van Acker has had a similar experience teaching personal finance at WT Woodson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.

In the economics portion of his classes, students learn about supply and demand, taxes and insurance. Students also learn about retirement, stocks and IRAs.

Van Acker says a career budget project done toward the end of the first semester gets students excited — the students pick a career, research the salary, account for taxes and savings and then craft a monthly budget.

Van Acker’s students also research entrepreneurs to learn about how they got their start.

“I can literally tell my kids today in my classroom that what I teach them is going to be something that’s going to impact them, if it hasn’t already, for the rest of their lives,” he told me. “And so that’s why I think it’s one of the most important classes a kid could take.”

Scott’s take: Two years of AP Calculus didn’t really help with basic finance skills, like understanding how the stock market works or how to balance a checkbook.

Prince George’s executive calls for school board chair to step down

Earlier this week, Prince George’s County, Maryland, executive Angela Alsobrooks repeated calls for School Board Chair Juanita Miller to step down.

I spoke to WTOP’s John Domen for the latest.

Q: What’s the origin of the conflict unfolding within the school board? 

A: At a basic level, it’s personality conflicts. But the board has been immersed in conflict seemingly forever. It happened when the board was full of members who were appointed. It happened when it was all-elected. And it was a concern when they changed the law a few years ago to make it a hybrid board with some elected members and some appointed. It’s never just one issue. It’s just one thing after another. The names and faces change, the issues change, but the same problems plague the board.

Q: What did Alsobrooks say this week about Miller’s role on the board? 

A: She reiterated that Miller should step down. But she also made it quite clear that you can’t blame her for all the problems currently plaguing the board. I specifically asked if you can measure it — how much did she contribute to the problem — and Alsobrooks said no, you really can’t.

But between the ongoing drama, the state board investigation, and the fact that the makeup of the board is changing again, that all suggested to Alsobrooks that it’s time to move on.

In December, the board will start choosing its own chair, and it would be really, really, really hard to imagine her keeping that role. Would she stay on as a rank and file board member? No one seems to think so.

Then, in 2024, the board becomes an all-elected board again. So with her time running out, and all this other drama, Alsobrooks just publicly said it was time. I asked Miller about it and her response was “no comment.”

Q: Where do we go from here? What has Miller said about resigning? 

A: Last week, she skirted around the Alsobrooks request and just asked for the process to play out in a video response. She can do that. She also responded “no comment” when I asked her about Alsobrooks reiterating that call back on Tuesday.

Now, she can’t be fired by anyone in the county. But the state board can fire her. So we’ll see.

[Read John’s full story on the state of the Prince George’s county school board on]

By the numbers
Some of the data that caught my eye this week.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser this week urged parents to get their students up-to-date on all vaccines before the next school year starts.

Thomas Farley, with D.C. Health, says 80% of kindergartners in D.C. are up to date on routine shots.

Bowser urged families not to wait to be up to date with shots.

[Read more about the city’s plans to boost vaccination rates on]

What Scott’s Reading

  • Montgomery Co. schools says additional security training underway after Magruder HS shooting report [WTOP] 
  • Mental health services, pay raise for longtime teachers funded in Fairfax Co. schools’ budget [WTOP]
  • ‘Don’t give up’: Sen. Kaine tells Arlington high schoolers about gun control [WTOP]
  • Elementary school in Virginia gets ukuleles for music therapy program [NBC4]
  • ‘When it’s a shooting on a city street, nothing happens’ [Washington Post]
  • Parent leaders call for more information in response to Magruder High shooting report [Bethesda Beat]
  • Uvalde had prepared for school shootings. It did not stop the rampage. [New York Times]

Also this week, the DMV Download spoke to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee about the role of police in schools. Take a listen below.

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Softball and party: The weekend will start on the softball field, for some of the final games in the D.C. media softball league. We’ll also be celebrating friends’ engagement on a rooftop — we might just have to bring some of the new Trader Joe’s limoncello Gouda cheese.

Keep in touch: Have a school story idea we should know about? Send it to

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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