As some Wisconsin lawmakers push to make financial literacy education a requirement for districts across the state, Madison schools are rolling out a mandatory course for high school students in the next school year. 

Starting with the incoming freshmen class, the Madison Metropolitan School District will require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course to graduate. The class will be aligned with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's current standards around financial literacy.

Cindy Green, executive director of curriculum and assessment for MMSD, said the new requirement is in line with the district’s overall vision for graduation.

“It’s really about building students that are college, career and community ready. One way to do that is to focus on personal finance and providing students with the life skills that they need when they leave us after high school,” she said.

Earlier this spring, state Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, co-authored the bill that calls for school districts across the state to “adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate instruction in financial literacy into the curriculum in grades kindergarten to 12.” The Assembly passed the bill on Wednesday (June 22). The Senate has yet to vote on the measure. 

Krug proposed a similar bill during the last legislative session that would have mandated districts create a financial literacy curriculum that aligned to existing state DPI standards and required students to take corresponding standardized tests.

The initial bill faced pushback from some school districts that already had financial literacy requirements in place. Krug said about 75 percent of public school districts across the state have some type of financial literacy curriculum for students.

Krug said this session’s iteration of the bill provides more flexibility for school boards, districts and parents to work together to create an approach that works for their students.

“We didn’t want to be too hard on a mandate. We wanted to give them some local choice in decision-making,” Krug said. “In the end, I’d like to see most, if not all, districts get to incorporating (financial literacy concepts) through K-12, but I am more than comfortable leaving local school districts to decide how to implement it.”

As a father of six, Krug said it is important for all children in Wisconsin to learn healthy financial habits.

“As a parent, we try to do as much as we can, but we need to rely on the schools to be a helpful hand,” Krug said.

In an emailed statement to the Cap Times, Sen. Kapenga said the bill is an opportunity for districts across the state to start or continue conversations about financial literacy requirements for their students.

“Financial literacy is important for students to achieve success, as it is a vital part of everyday grown-up life. Many schools understand this and have implemented related curriculum already; however, the data continues to show that adequate knowledge of basic financial principles is far too low,” he said. “This bill will encourage school districts to start a conversation on how to adopt this critical life skill into their curriculum, or even reconsider the effectiveness of what is already in place.”

In addition to the new requirement at the high school level, MMSD is also working to broaden financial literacy education for all students. 

Last year, MMSD, along with eight other Wisconsin school districts, received a Financial Literacy Innovation award from Gov. Scott Walker. MMSD proposed using the $30,000 award to create investment clubs at some Madison middle schools. Earlier this spring, the district partnered with middle school teachers to begin developing the curriculum. Teachers at some middle schools are already piloting the curriculum, and the district plans to make it available to all middle school teachers as an optional supplement. 

Another component of the innovation grant is to strengthen existing partnerships with community-based organizations. In 2011, Summit Credit Union opened its first in-school branch at Madison La Follette High School. In recent years, Summit added two more branches at Madison East and Madison Memorial high schools where students and school staff can do their banking.

Lisa Peyton-Caire, assistant vice president of life, learning & events at Summit Credit Union estimates more than 2,000 MMSD high school students take advantage of Summit's in-school financial education programs each year, and that Summit’s three in-school branches currently serve more than 750 members.

“We teach fundamental skills every young person needs to learn about financial education, including budgeting, saving, smart spending, helping people understand advertising and marketing so they don't fall prey to schemes, and planning for the cost of college,” Peyton-Caire said. “Students, staff and parents are able to draw from the expertise of Summit staff.”

Students also staff in-school branches, helping them garner work experience with financial literacy and the workforce. 

“Students are trained just as any Summit employee. They manage transactions and serve customers,” Peyton-Caire said. “It is a pretty unique opportunity for them to learn about the financial industry.”

Summit also hosts its annual “Project Teen Money,” a competition where high school students create short videos to educate their peers about financial literacy.

Jennifer Wegner, director of Personalized Pathways and career and technical education for MMSD, said the Summit partnership is a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience with financial education. 

“What is great about our partnership with Summit is that they share information and make sure that our students are poised with the knowledge, skills and disposition they need to make really good financial decisions in the future,” Wegner said.

This article was originally published in the Cap Times.