NORTHFIELD — A new law will soon require middle school students across the state to learn about budgeting, saving and investments.
In Northfield, they’ve already been learning it for several years.
On Thursday, acting Gov. Sheila Oliver signed a bill requiring the financial education in grades six through eight at the President Barack Obama Elementary School in Jersey City with a goal to improve financial literacy among youth. According to lawmakers, the bill will help students become prepared for paying for college, buying a home and managing finances.
“Financial responsibility is an important acquired and learned life skill and with the increasing financial challenges millennials face, it is a skill that must be a necessary part of our educational curriculum,” Oliver said during the signing.
Northfield Community School Principal Kevin Morrison saw the value in the life skill for his young students, and, with the help of teacher Colleen Kennedy, put it into play when he came to the district through an elective, as well as integrating it into the math department.
“It’s hard in school sometimes because you see linear equations and you think, ‘When am I going to use that?’” Morrison said.
He said with the financial literacy elective, his students can see the real-world application of the things they are learning.
“Kids, they see it. They want a good job, a good house,” he said. “It’s such a real world skill. The earlier they start thinking about those things the better off they are.”
He said it also focuses them, letting them see the earning potential of different careers, and how a household budget would work.
“It gets them to see the bigger picture at a younger age,” Morrison said.
During fifth and sixth grade, students take each of the school’s six electives, also called “specials.” In seventh and eighth grade, they can choose one elective to take the entire year. In the financial literacy elective students do several projects, including one on the stock market and a trip to the Atlantic City Boat Show, where they have to find and “purchase” a boat within their budgets.
The need for financial literacy education in schools has been championed for several years by business organizations and others.
“It’s critical that young adults go out into the real world with a greater understanding of financial responsibility and how to better manage their money and avoid debt. While financial literacy is taught in high school, starting an earlier pathway to learn how to make good, sound financial decisions will be of great benefit for our students,” said Michael Wallace, New Jersey Business and Industry Association vice president of government affairs, in reaction to the new law.
Since 2010, financial literacy has been incorporated into high school education as part of the state’s learning standards and graduation requirements.
Other bills remain pending to help improve financial literacy among teens, including one that passed the Senate last session but has not made it out of Assembly.
That proposed law would change the high school graduation requirements to include instruction on tuition assistance programs and student loan debt and require high school students to meet with guidance counselors to discuss tuition assistance and dual enrollment.
Morrison said it’s never too early to expose students to financial education, especially since students are already handling money through allowances, birthday gifts or, for some, after-school and summer jobs.
“It’s in how you present it. If you broke out a W-4, I think they would be too young to understand,” he said. “By the time they’re in eighth grade, I think they’re old enough to understand the ins and out.”