Stuyvesant’s new personal finance elective is a good start. Now, let’s make it mandatory.

In First Person, Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others who think and write about public education.

When I got my first paycheck for working on a political campaign and nearly a third was deducted for taxes, I was shocked because I was only making minimum wage. I shrugged, assuming that’s why adults always complain about taxes.

When I told family friends this as a coming-of-age story, someone explained to me that I could probably get some of that money back if I filed a tax return the following April. While the financing conditions flew through my head, I immediately perked up when I spoke of a tax refund. I didn’t know this was possible and I’m not alone.

Headshot of a teenage girl wearing hoop earrings and a white blouse.

Many high school students are about to make one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives: how to pay for college. Yet many of us are unprepared to make that decision and many others that will follow – from paying rent to using credit cards to saving for the proverbial rainy day. What we don’t know about managing money can haunt us for decades to come.

I go to Stuyvesant High School, where students take over 30 AP classes and choose from over 50 electives. But until recently there was no personal finance course. Students were well prepared for college but often clueless about how to manage their money.

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In 2021, I wrote about the need for financial education in my high school newspaper, The Stuyvesant Spectator; My article prompted Stuyvesant to create a personal finance elective the following school year. I was pleased with the school administration’s response to the article, but soon realized that simply providing the instruction was not enough. In a class of over 800 students, only 8% of the seniors were able to take the course.

Due to the high demand I was not able to register, I took the course a few times. I watched seniors review their college admissions and financial aid packages, and was shown how to budget using the real numbers at hand. In another lesson, they learned about marketing tactics companies use to attract customers; Students created their own imaginary businesses using these strategies to understand how to avoid falling for misleading marketing claims.

Financial literacy is not a subject that just a few students should understand. It’s like a health class: an important area of ​​knowledge every high school student needs (yes, even if it means another graduation requirement). The editorial staff of the Stuyvesant Spectator recognized this and published a special issue entitled “The Stocktator” to promote the class and its expansion. We spoke to faculty, students and alumni to find out what students want and need from a financial literacy course.

A bill that would require schools to offer a financial education course and graduate students is in committee of the New York State Senate.

We found that 89% of the students surveyed didn’t know how to get a college loan, and 92% of the students would like to be more financially literate. Alumni shared stories of abusing loans, filling out federal financial assistance forms without parental help, sinking into immense debt and still not understanding how to pay their taxes.

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In response to student demand and advocacy through journalism, our administration has expanded the personal finance course from one section to two sections, but without government mandates it is difficult to offer it to all. More than a dozen states require personal finance education for high schoolers, but New York — the nation’s financial capital — is not one of them.

New York State currently requires business classes (required for the degree) to touch on personal finance, but in reality at least one semester is required to introduce topics such as budgeting, banking basics, buying vs. renting, insurance, identity theft, and credit scores.

There are many high schools that do not have the resources to start a personal finance course without a government mandate. A bill that would require schools to offer a financial education course and graduate students is in committee of the New York State Senate.

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I’m hoping to be lucky enough to get a spot on Stuyvesant’s personal finance class next semester because I still don’t know how to get college credit or protect myself from identity theft. I still don’t understand the difference between a checking and savings account, and I don’t know what my credit rating is. While getting my tax refund, the process was so complicated that I had to leave it to my father. But I’m almost an adult and I don’t want to start my independent life which is constrained by my lack of financial literacy.

High schoolers are very focused on the score when it comes to SAT, ACT, and their GPA. But few of us know enough about the score that will accompany us through adulthood: our credit score. After high school, some of us will never solve arithmetic problems again. Our test scores and GPAs become irrelevant measures of past performance. But each and every one of us will have to manage our finances. We have to learn that.

Anisha Singhal is a senior at Stuyvesant High School and Opinion Editor for the school newspaper, The Stuyvesant Spectator. She is a financial literacy advocate and soccer player. You can often find their Citi Biking in New York City.


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