10/16/2012 03:16 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Financial Literacy Lessons Benefit Students and State

One of the most important issues facing households in our state is personal debt. Research shows that North Carolinians have experienced a troubling increase in the amount of personal debt as compared to personal income. Recognizing this problem, the North Carolina General Assembly passed laws to require instruction in personal financial literacy to students and to establish a Financial Literacy Council, which works in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) to implement financial literacy education programs in schools across the state.

Many will agree that it is never too early to learn how to spend and save money wisely. The earlier students learn about debt, savings, and credit, the less likely they are to struggle with debt in the future and the more likely they will become active and productive participants in the state's economy. This is why financial literacy concepts are embedded within a number of math courses throughout the grade levels in North Carolina. However, math is not the only subject in which students can learn the skills that they need to make smart financial decisions. In December of 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted new Essential Standards for Social Studies, which include economics and personal financial literacy concepts that are taught at all grade levels. In fact, Civics and Economics is a required course for high school graduation and it contains in-depth instruction on personal financial literacy. In addition, students enrolled in Career and Technical Education courses also focus on personal financial literacy as a component of their preparation for the workplace and citizenship.

These lessons on financial literacy follow an important timeline throughout a student's educational career. Children as young as five, for example, learn basic economic and financial concepts such as wants and needs and how having a job can help them earn money and purchase the things they want. Early mastery of these foundational concepts enable students in middle school to examine how personal financial decisions affect their quality of life and standard of living as well as how the decisions they make may impact their state, nation, and world. By the time students get to high school, they are ready to explore more complex issues related to personal financial literacy that include the causes and consequences of bankruptcy, the fine print in credit applications, proper and effective budgeting, benefits and drawbacks to borrowing money, and how to apply for a home mortgage or rent an apartment. These lessons prepare them for the promise and perils of the financial independence they will begin to experience in college or a career.

Students are not the only ones learning about financial literacy in public schools. The NCDPI continues to offer professional development focused on financial literacy, which has included a series of regional workshops supported by a federal College Access Challenge Grant. NCDPI also has sponsored a Personal Financial Literacy Summit in conjunction with the Jump$tart Coalition to provide teachers and administrators numerous resources for and training in personal financial literacy from state and national experts.

Ultimately, personal financial literacy must be a shared goal for all North Carolinians. Cultivating the development of financial literacy in today's youth holds a great deal of promise for all citizens in North Carolina and we look forward to a brighter, and richer, future resulting from this education and collaboration.