As the New Mexico Public Education Department prepares to overhaul its K-12 social studies standards for the first time in two decades, a local nonprofit is pushing the state agency to include an unconventional topic: personal finance.

Santa Fe-based Think New Mexico says public school students could build practical financial skills while learning about economics, which already is taught in social studies classes. If its recommendations are approved, the group says, the state’s kindergartners eventually will be able to distinguish financial “needs” from “wants,” and high school graduates will be able to invest in a Roth IRA and decipher the fine print in loan agreements.

“Personal finance alone is not the silver bullet to solving all of our problems in education, but it’s a start,” said Abenicio Baldonado, Think New Mexico’s education reform director. “We can start attacking generational poverty, which our state has suffered from.”

Many students would take their newfound financial knowledge home to parents and guardians who may need it, Baldonado added.

Changes to the social studies standards have stirred controversy across the state, with much of the attention centered on themes like social justice and tribal sovereignty. The new standards also aim to ensure students examine historical events from the viewpoints of various ethnic groups and learn about different cultures. Some Republican lawmakers have decried the overhaul as a shift toward “critical race theory” — a concept in higher education surrounding the role of race in legal institutions.

Think New Mexico is not focused on that debate, Baldonado said.

“At this point, we haven’t taken a position on anything” other than financial literacy, he said. “But we did feel this was an opportunity to really push our initiative of getting personal finance into the standards.”

Not everyone is sure financial literacy belongs in social studies classes, however.

Bowden Russell, a math teacher in the Magdalena Municipal School District, said he thinks personal finance may be a subject better suited for a math class.

Russell has worked as an engineer and a stockbroker. He now teaches a financial literacy course for seniors in the tiny Central New Mexico district. In his class, students often are making tough calculations and navigating complicated tax forms.

“Why put it out of the math department if it’s going to take a math or finance person to teach it?” he said. “If I wasn’t an engineer or finance person, I wouldn’t know how to teach it.”

Gwen Perea Warniment, deputy secretary of public education, wrote in a recent email the state’s proposed social studies standards already include some financial literacy principles. She cited some potential concerns about the Think New Mexico proposal, in which students would learn about chore money and college funds, because of the state’s high number of public school students living in poverty. “For example, it could be insensitive to ask a third grader what chores she can do to earn money or to ask an eighth grader about the change in value over time of his college savings fund,” Warniment wrote.

The push for more personal finance classes in the state’s public schools is not new. During the 2021 legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers considered a bill that would have required high school students to earn a half-credit in math through a financial class.

The measure didn’t pass.

Baldonado, who previously taught economics at a local charter school, said adding a half-credit to math requirements would have created a headache for school counselors trying to ensure seniors were able to graduate.

“It makes more sense to put it in social sciences,” he said. “Let’s tie it to economics; let’s show how personal finance and economics go hand in hand and what it means to the student.”

Think New Mexico’s recommendations for financial literacy lessons draw inspiration from states like Colorado that already have taken steps to include the topic in social studies courses. According to the organization’s website, 21 states have some type of financial literacy requirement for public school students.

Tim Ranzetta, who co-founded the national financial literacy organization Next Gen Personal Finance, said Think New Mexico’s proposal could be a “very logical next step” to getting stand-alone personal financial courses into public schools. But, he added, it should not be a stopping point.

“Research finds that about two-thirds of the time, when it’s embedded in another course, it’s not taught,” Ranzetta said of financial literacy. “There is so much content, it’s a challenging course to teach.”

Access to financial literacy classes varies across the United States. One in 5 students nationwide has access to some type of class, Ranzetta said, but the number narrows when it comes to schools with fewer white students.

Baldonado said he is hopeful that if the group’s suggestions receive approval from the Public Education Department, teachers can dive into what he called a wide variety of free online teaching materials on the subject matter.

“We can make this happen,” he said. “We’re not re-creating anything. We’re not adding additional burdens. Ultimately, we’re saying, ‘Hey, let’s rethink the economics course, which is already a graduation requirement, and maybe let’s do half economics, half personal finance.’ ”

(7) comments

Richard Reinders

During a guest host appearance on ABC's "The View," Rice, the first Black woman to head the State Department, cited her experience growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, as she argued that young children didn't need to be taught CRT and parents needed to have a say in their children's education."People are being taught the true history, but I just have to say one more thing: It goes back to how we teach the history. We teach the good and we teach the bad of history. But what we don’t do is make 7- and 10-year-olds feel that they are somehow bad people because of the color of their skin," she added. "We've been through that, and we don't need to do that again for anyone."

Celia Ludi

I strongly support requiring and teaching personal finance in schools. Along with basic literacy, it's one of the things that make the biggest difference in how successful a person will be in making good financial decisions that will affect their whole life. Ironically, the top story today was about a young person who made very bad financial decisions. Maybe if she had had a personal finance class (or several) she would have had the information she needed to recognize that she was actually committing crimes. Or at least to ask the right questions so she was fully informed before making her decisions. The idea of a graduated approach, as described by Think New Mexico, with different concepts and skills taught in different grades makes good sense. But as Tim Ranzetta noted in the article, just including it in the standards doesn't address how extensively it will be taught - there's a lot of content in the standards and teachers have to decide how and how much time to address each one. So for personal finance education, to start with, how about adding a stand-alone full-credit course as a requirement for high school graduation? As I understand it, the primary reason the 2021 bill didn't pass was that it only required a 1/2 credit course, and trying to fit in a half instead of a full credit was a scheduling nightmare. A full credit would both be more useful and easier to schedule. More advanced classes like the one Mr. Russell teaches (kudos to him!) could also be offered as electives.

As regards teaching critical race theory in public schools: It is not being done now. The new standards do not propose it. What people seem to be referring to when they oppose "CRT" is actually just teaching the current and historical perspectives and experiences, and their effects, of all people in our country instead of just some white people. I don't know why anyone would object to that.

David Ford

I, like Rodney, hope he just left out "about". The truth? That is exactly what terrifies the right and our current state of affairs is testament to that very fact.

I took home economics in High School (Yokohama, Japan DOD - Yo-Hi!) learning to cook and bake. Served me well and I still bake just about everything and have won some blue ribbons at county fairs in Colorado. [beam]

Khal Spencer

Huh? I learned all about cathode ray tubes in grad school when we automated our mass spectrometers. Never hurt me. In fact, I went home and rewired the high voltage on the color TV set and got another few years out of that old Zenith console!

More seriously, I'd have to see how CRT is taught before deciding whether to complain. My wife, who taught rhetoric and literature in a community college for twenty years, shares my doubts that this will be done well in New Mexico's K-12.

Charlotte Rowe

Personal finance used to be part of (and the actual named meaning of) "Home Economics" classes - contrary to the typical paradigm or misunderstanding that they're all about baking and ironing. Should be required for both girls AND boys. That having been said, Richard Reinders what on Earth are you so afraid of? CRT simply reveals the truth, it doesn't promote your racism.

Richard Reinders

CRT teaches racism, teaching financial responsibility teaches needed life skills easy choice for me.

rodney carswell

Richard, I think you left out the word "about"

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