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During the Christmas season, it's fair to say people could use a lesson in personal finance. Too many will find themselves paying for the holiday long after the new year.

In an era when the future of cash is being debated and even credit and debit cards are considered yesterday's technology, the bottom line continues to be living within personal means. To do so means understanding how the world of finance works.

For some years, there has been debate on whether schools are doing enough to teach young people about the basics of finance.

South Carolina has made strides in doing so -- but can do better.

High schools in the state earned a B- for teaching personal finance in the recently released 2017 Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools. It is titled “Is Your State Making the Grade? ”

The report card, prepared by Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy, grades each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on how well their high schools teach personal finance. The 2017 report card is the third done by the center, with previous reports cards in 2015 and 2013.

South Carolina joined Arkansas, Arizona, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Michigan and Idaho in receiving a B-. Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia earned an A grade, and Utah was the only state to receive an A+.

John Pelletier, director of the Champlain College center, said states received B-, B or B+ based on whether courses allocated more than, equal to, or less than a quarter of the course to personal finance. South Carolina requires a half-year economics course, and personal finance is embedded in it.

The center estimates South Carolina students receive about seven hours of instruction in personal finance. It is unclear how or whether the state measures student proficiency.

Pelletier notes that research indicates students from wealthy communities are much more likely to have access to personal finance education in high school than students in poor communities.

“The poor should have equal access to personal finance education in high school — it shouldn’t be for just the rich,” he said. “But access is only possible if a state policy requires it.”

In addition to compiling data from various sources, Champlain’s center conducted in-depth research on each state’s policies regarding the teaching of high school personal finance. The center reviewed state laws and regulations, graduation requirements, educational standards and assessment policies, and clarified questions in discussions with state education policy experts.

“We are pleased with incremental improvements in many states, and South Carolina is part of the good news,” Pelletier said. “But states with C or lower grades have to do better."

The original Champlain 2013 and 2015 report cards generated widespread media attention. Of more importance, it sparked discussion among state legislatures, citizens and organizations committed to improving financial literacy.

There is need for further discussion -- and serious examination on how South Carolina can further improve personal finance instruction. Few things in education are any more important as studies show financial literacy is linked to positive outcomes like wealth accumulation, stock market participation, retirement planning and avoiding high-cost alternative financial services.

As Pelletier said: “High school graduates are about to step into the world of work, military service or college, and they need to have the financial skills to navigate a complex world."


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