Montgomery Co. schools won’t require financial literacy course for now

Public schools in Montgomery County won’t require students to complete a financial literacy course to graduate, but the Board of Education has agreed to find more ways to make the topic available to students as an elective in the Maryland county.

During its Tuesday meeting, the board also agreed to revisit the issue of making financial literacy a graduation requirement in the spring of 2023.

In introducing the school system’s plans, Maria Tarasuk with Montgomery County Public Schools’ Department of Curriculum said students who choose to take a course in financial literacy could receive “graduation recognition” and perhaps student service learning hours.

She explained that schools could require credit and non-credit lessons in a variety of ways. Financial literacy could be folded into courses currently needed for graduation or could be offered in non-credit formats.

Tarasuk also outlined a number of reasons why the school system felt now is not the time for a new graduation requirement, including the following:

  • Concerns over the impact it would have on teaching assignments;
  • The need to monitor and document student progress in meeting the additional graduation requirement;
  • Possible changes to school operations as a result of implementing school reforms in the legislation known as the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools will implement a graduation requirement in financial literacy next year, and Tarasuk suggested that Montgomery County could “share lessons learned from our neighboring district” in the spring of 2024.

But Hana O’Looney, the school board’s student member, referred to another neighboring school district, Frederick County, as she made her pitch to adopt the measure.

O’Looney explained that the Frederick County school system requires students to complete 25 credits, including financial literacy, while Montgomery County requires the completion of 22 credits. Yet Frederick County schools have a higher graduation rate than MCPS, said O’Looney, who is graduating this year.

According to data from the Maryland State Department of Education, the graduation rate in Montgomery County is 91.3%. In Frederick County, which O’Looney conceded is “not as diverse,” the graduation rate is 93.7%.

“I think true financial education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty,” O’Looney told board members. “It would be a shame if the courses that this board decided were mandatory for life were Algebra I, Biology, English… instead of actual skills that can break the cycle of poverty.”

During the school board meeting’s public testimony period, several students told school board members that financial literacy should be made a graduation requirement.

Nareen Othman, a ninth grader at Northwood High school, told the board, “We can’t say, as a county, that graduates are ready for the university and the workforce when they don’t know how to apply for financial aid and how to manage a loan.”

Board members Rebecca Smondrowski and Lynne Harris agreed with O’Looney, but were outvoted on calling for a mandate on financial literacy. Instead, the board voted to find more ways to deliver some of the content and to revisit the topic next spring.

Superintendent Monifa McKnight said that by next spring, there will be more information available on how state-mandated school reforms will impact school operations, and she said the feedback “has truly been helpful.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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