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Resolution calls for schools to teach financial literacy

Hawaii students are not learning enough about money, according to a Hawaii County Council resolution to be introduced this week.

The nonbinding resolution, which will be presented by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, urges the state Legislature to pass laws encouraging the state Department of Education to develop a school curriculum for financial literacy next year that would be a course requirement for all Hawaii students.

Specifically, the resolution calls for a curriculum including “practical information relating to banking, credit cards, student loans, filing taxes, credit scores, savings and investments, rental deposits, and wages and benefits analysis.” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said such courses could be focused on the high school level, but should ideally be spread throughout primary education.

Currently, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said students are graduating high school without the educational building blocks required to be financially responsible.

“We teach trigonometry and good English, and that’s important, but kids are leaving school and nobody taught them how to balance a checkbook,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “Nobody taught them how to invest their money.”

When Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was growing up, he said, he took a home economics class that at least taught him how to write a check. But, for the most part, the current policy appears to be that such lessons are better left to the parents.

“But the parents are still learning about these things, too,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “I’m still learning about this.”

Stacey Williams, financial planner with ARA Wealth Management Group, said said there are some financial education courses available through Junior Achievement of Hawaii, which offers lessons on economics to be taught in elementary, middle and high schools. However, she added, those lessons only are available by those schools that partner with Junior Achievement, and outside of that organization, financial education is thin.

“I have 28 years of banking experience, so my kids grew up learning about these things,” Williams said. “But some of the kids who would hang out at our place didn’t know anything about that.”

Williams’ husband and fellow financial adviser Rob Williams said many of the adult clients he and his wife serve know very little about finances and must be taught relatively basic concepts, such as what a mutual fund is.

“A big part of our job is education,” Stacey Williams said. “Some people get it in one meeting, and for other people, it takes more time. But we don’t want people to feel embarrassed for not knowing.”

Back in 2015, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said, a task force was formed in the DOE to investigate the state of financial literacy in Hawaii schools. That task force eventually developed a report recommending that a financial literacy program be adopted in schools statewide, which led this year to the creation of a bill that would establish a school curriculum to teach, among other things, how to manage finances.

That bill was deferred at the committee level in March.

“I have no idea why it didn’t happen,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “All I know is, that if they passed on it because they didn’t think it was important, than that’s horrible.”

According to testimony submitted by then-Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at the time, much of the curriculum proposed by the bill already exists in some fashion in the current DOE curriculum, while other parts of the proposed additions were too vague to be helpful.

“The department believes in the importance of financial literacy and as a result has created a new course titled ‘Financial Literacy’ as well as offer other courses which imbue financial literacy concepts,” Kishimoto wrote in March. “However, given the scope of topics which financial literacy and service learning encompasses, we believe it should be addressed as a separate topic apart from a service learning curriculum.”

But considering the current financial straits of Hawaii and the world at large, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said children need as many tools as they can get to help them thrive in adulthood.

“We’re watching the global economy scrambling during COVID. The housing market is crazy. Most people can’t afford homes,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “And our kids are graduating without knowing how to deal with any of that.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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