DC approves financial literacy standards to help prep kids for life after high school

D.C.’s school board this week approved financial literacy standards, paving the way for some students to learn about taxes, credit and investing to help prepare them for life after high school.

The D.C. State Board of Education approved the standards unanimously. The final standards were put together after public feedback that included a survey and multiple listening sessions.

In recent years, school districts across the D.C. region have grappled with whether or not to make financial literacy a graduation requirement. All Virginia high schools have the requirement, and Prince George’s County schools in Maryland have recently introduced it.

In D.C., the standards are meant to be used in a standalone elective course for 9th through 12th grades, which will be rolled out next year. Currently, D.C. doesn’t require high schoolers to take financial literacy to graduate.

“Empowering our communities through financial literacy is not just about dollars and cents; it’s about unlocking doors of opportunity and ensuring that every one of our students has the tools to build a brighter future,” board member Eboni-Rose Thompson said in a statement.

Thompson maintained that learning financial literacy standards “is key to leveling the playing field and fostering equity so the next generation can be prepared to thrive and succeed on their own terms.”

The standards fall into five categories: earned income, saving and investing, spending, credit and managing risk. They’ll help students learn, for example, how to compare different types of insurance, create a budget and understand the programs in place for financial support if they’re interested in pursuing higher education in D.C.

After the public comment period, 22 standards were removed, according to Elizabeth Ross, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for OSSE. In some cases, those standards overlapped with concepts taught in economics or social studies, Ross said.

Six standards were added, Ross said, explaining that some students expressed a desire to learn more about taxes.

“Some of our students who have summer jobs or who are working on nights and weekends are responsible for filing tax forms, and they wanted more information about where those responsibilities started and what that involved,” Ross said.

The adopted standards include things such as helping students identify key dates about when to file tax documents. As part of those lessons, students will fill out a sample W-4 form and prepare a tax form with a sample set of data.

Caroline Bruckner, a tax professor at American University, said many states are adopting financial literacy plans that don’t include tax literacy requirements. A D.C. Public Schools parent, she advocated for those concepts to be included in D.C.’s plans.

“Our tax system is not set up to readily accommodate how people work today,” Bruckner said. “It used to be that you didn’t really need to know all that much about tax if you had one full-time job. And that was your primary source of income because your employer would do withholding for your income and your payroll taxes.”

But 70 million people in the U.S. work outside of the full-time workforce, meaning they don’t have tax withholdings, Bruckner said.

As part of her research, Bruckner said less than 7.5% of business owners and gig workers reported learning how to do taxes in high school. About 12% learned how to do them in college.

“There’s so many opportunities for building net wealth and financing education and building retirement security that are really critical to put in place in your younger years,” Bruckner said.

The concepts are brought into the classroom using games, simulations and other activities, according to Monet Davis, director of math at KIPP DC.

It’s information “a lot of adults don’t get until after they’ve already made decisions that really heavily impact them a lot of times in a negative way,” Davis said.

The standards include plans to teach students about credit, and why it’s important to have good credit, and will also help students learn how they can “make environmentally friendly investing decisions,” Ross said.

The standards are available online.

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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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