Maine lawmakers are considering legislation to require financial literacy coursework in high school. The new bill would mandate a class in personal finance before high schoolers can graduate, with Maine close to becoming the 20th state to make financial literacy a requirement.

Financial literacy is key for students and adults alike, and a relevant requirement in high school would give young Mainers a sturdier foundation as they make important decisions later in life. Whether you’re 18 or 50 years old, a basic understanding of personal finance equips people with the knowledge and skills necessary to manage money and create a budget as well as setting up short- and long-term financial goals.

The earlier you start, the better. By learning about money management at a young age, students are better equipped to tackle the financial challenges they will inevitably face over time. With that understanding, they are more likely to avoid common financial pitfalls, such as credit card debt and overspending. For millions of Americans, a lack of financial literacy can cost thousands of dollars per year. In Maine alone, one in three people say they have too much debt.

Therefore, financial literacy is a critical skill that needs to be taught early and often. While legislation can certainly make a difference, educators cannot rely solely on legislators to make personal finance a teaching priority. Even if financial literacy becomes a requirement in high school, more will need to be done for students to master personal finance. A single class will not be the difference between success and failure – it is one rung on the ladder, but not the entire ladder.

Nor is high school the be-all and end-all. In truth, personal finance can and should be taught at all ages – from kindergarten to adulthood. Junior Achievement has taught financial literacy for decades, starting in kindergarten and going all the way to the 12th grade. We impact more than 15,000 Maine students a year, focusing on experiential, hands-on programs that introduce students to concepts like entrepreneurship and workforce readiness. Through age-appropriate real-world experiences, we teach financial literacy in different ways to different audiences, recognizing that what resonates with high schoolers may not appeal to children in elementary or middle school.

For example, we equip elementary and middle school students with skills and knowledge around how money works and the value of choice. We also introduce them to the difference between a “want” and a “need.” For high schoolers, on the other hand, we dive even deeper, emphasizing the importance of your credit score or the purpose of car insurance. We share differences between consumer debt and business debt, encouraging students to engage in smart shopping practices and manage their debt before – long before – it becomes unmanageable.


Customized teaching is the best form of education, especially when it comes to subject matter as important as financial literacy. Personal finance cannot be theoretical, even for non-adults; students need to be able to conceptualize it in their own unique ways, so that they are prepared for the “real world.”

In the wake of COVID-19, Maine faces one of the most challenging economic times in its history. Reading, writing and arithmetic are no longer sufficient to prepare our children for adult roles. Students must exceed previous educational outcomes to compete and succeed at the breakneck speed of today’s disruptive economy.

Financial literacy will play a pivotal role in that success. Competition will require a mastery of personal finance, and it is encouraging to see Maine’s lawmakers putting an emphasis on it.

But if Maine is to meet the challenges of today, financial literacy will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, with personal finance being taught (and taught well) long before high school. Junior Achievement can help fill this gap.

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