Vermont’s public schools generally do well in national rankings. The National Education Association and U.S. News both rank Vermont schools fifth best in the nation. Education Week, an independent news organization that covers K–12 education, says Vermont is third best. Vermont’s 91.4% graduation rate is well above the national median of 78.6%.

Despite good grades overall, many Vermont schools fail miserably concerning teaching financial literacy. According to the 2018 report from Vermont’s Financial Literacy Commission, Vermont ranks in the bottom third of states in offering personal finance education. In 2017, the commission gave Vermont schools a D grade in teaching financial literacy in part because only 22% of Vermonters have participated in financial education.

According to State Treasurer Beth Pearce, “Financial literacy is a national challenge. Too many Americans struggle to manage their money. Partnering with Vermonters to develop financial literacy is crucial for the economic growth and prosperity of Vermont.”

The Vermont Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, is hoping to improve Vermont’s low financial literacy grade. The coalition is dedicated to improving the financial literacy of Vermont youth by providing advocacy, information and educational resources.

In its 2018 report to state lawmakers, the Vermont Financial Literacy Commission identified a “persistent and urgent need to make financial literacy education easily accessible and readily available to Vermonters.” According to the report, the “lack of financial knowledge and skill is hurting the financial well-being of many Vermont students, consumers, workers, retirees, entrepreneurs and businesses.”

One recommendation in the report is, the state should develop “robust education standards” for classrooms. “Policy makers should update Vermont’s existing personal finance-related standards to reflect highly regarded national financial literacy standards, and provide recognized tools to supervisory unions, schools and educators to offer or expand personal finance education,” the report stated.

In 2017, Vermont adopted the financial standards on the National Jump$tart Coalition. The standards were designed to guide classroom education, extra-curricular learning and the development of financial education programs, materials and tools.

“The national Jump$tart standards provide building blocks for K-12 educators.They cover topics on spending and saving, credit and debt, employment and income, investing, risk and insurance, and financial decision making. Exposure to these topics and standards throughout the education system will help prepare students for the financial decisions they will make throughout the rest of their lives,” said Courtney Poquette, a business teacher at Winooski High School.

Last month, Jump$tart hosted a financial literacy conference geared for teachers and other educations. The 14th annual conference was held Oct. 28 in Killington. The topics ranged from making money management meaningful for middle school students, to inspiring youth entrepreneurship geared for high school students, to teaching financial literacy through board games.

“This year’s conference (had) a dynamic agenda of presentations that will appeal to anyone committed to the financial well-being of Vermont youth,” said Kit Ardell, conference chairwoman.

The Jump$tart conference was sponsored by several Vermont banks, credit unions, a CPA firm, Capstone Community Action and National Life Group Foundation.

Organizers said the Jump$tart conference proved an excellent place for beginner and veteran teachers.

Pearce said tools such as the conference, and the work being done by Jump$tart is crucial.

“The treasurer’s office works with the Vermont Jump$tart Coalition, and other community and financial institutions, to support financial education. There are many state and local initiatives underway to create more robust financial education opportunities for students,” she said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers and community members who are doing this work on the ground. We look forward to continuing this collaborative work so every Vermonter can achieve a lifetime of financial well-being.”

Teachers often lack training around teaching financial concepts so the conference was designed to offer counsel and advice.

“Educators will be able to walk away with resources and materials that they can bring back to their classrooms and implement right away. It’s a place where you can network and meet other teachers across the state who are bringing this content into their classes in innovative ways,” said Poquette, one of the conference presenters.

Jump$tart Coalition board member Lori Belding, vice president and Community Reinvestment Act Officer for Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, said at her job she often deals with people who know nothing about banking, debt, loans, or credit. Some customers seeking loans are surprised when they take out a mortgage and realize they will pay the bank much more than the loan total and have no idea what they can actually afford.

Jump$tart board chairwoman Nancy Zorn agrees. “We know there are too many Vermonters who have not had basic education in financial matters and often end up in terrible situations. If we can get this information to them at an earlier age, they can start their careers off right,” she said.

In addition to the October conference, Jump$tart is sponsoring a video contest on the “importance of responsibly managing money.” The contest in sponsored by the coalition with support from Vermont Access Network and the state treasurer’s office.

First prize is $750. Participant must produce a video public service announcement that runs for 30 seconds up to 3 minutes on the importance of spending and saving, credit and debt, or financial decision making.

The deadline for video submissions is March 1, 2020. The winning students will have their videos shown publicly at the April 9, 2020, Financial Literacy Awards Ceremony, held in Montpelier.

Details are on the Jump$tart website at jump$start.org.

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