Eighth-graders in Janet Roland’s business and computer science class at Gainesville Middle School got a dose of what so many Americans appear to have a tough time doing — putting together a budget and sticking to it.
Roland handed out a sheet that explained a recent class exercise for her students.
“Congratulations!” the instructions told the students. “You have graduated college and have begun your career. Your salary is $36,000 per year. You have a second job ... (it) pays you $400 per month.”
On computers, students are asked to plan a personal budget on a spreadsheet by determining which expenses are fixed and which are variable.
As preparation leading up to the lesson, Roland said she had the students look at pay stubs so they understand the reality of taxes.
“You don’t get to bring all that money home,” the teacher said.
For a week and a half in her business class, Roland drills her students on the importance of handling one’s money.
“This is our unit on personal finance, just so they understand a budget,” she said. “They see what $36,000 does, what kind of expenses they really have.”
Schools throughout the country are paying more attention to the teaching of personal finances, and for good reason.
Earlier this month, Bankrate.com released the results of a survey that found 63 percent of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected or emergency expense.
In teaching personal finances in schools, Georgia is making the grade, according to a 2015 study prepared by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College. The study awarded Georgia a B grade on the strength of being one of a handful of states that require a half-year course in economics to graduate.
The report adds that six of the 22 standards in Georgia’s economics course are related to personal finances.
Fewer than half of the 50 states received grades of A or B. The report issued grades of C, D and F to 26 states.
Terry Sapp, a high school improvement specialist for Hall County Schools, said the district teaches personal finances as part of the economics course. Sapp said the district is in the process of exploring the development of a digital course in financial literacy for all high school students.
“I have a meeting scheduled in two weeks to begin exploration of course development,” he said.
Nancy Ware, an economics teacher at Gainesville High School, said she dedicates more time to personal finances, one of five domains that she covers.
“It’s the longest one that I do because that’s the first thing they’re going to use when they get outside of these four walls,” Ware said. “They’re going to need to know insurance, taxes, interest rates and things like that.”
Gainesville Middle School teacher Cara Mulkey said Georgia’s family and consumer science standard requires students “identify and discuss social and financial skills” to help them develop “personal independence.”
Sarah Bell, chief academics officer for Gainesville schools, said students begin to learn that “people must make choices in spending” as early as kindergarten.
“The culmination, of course, is the economics class required for high school graduation,” Bell said.