Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole at the Public Hearing on: Financial Literacy Education in Schools Amendment Act of 2021

Oct 6, 2022

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Ariel Johnson and I am the new Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success. I’m grateful to work with the Council and our partners across the city to achieve these goals.

Charter school leaders care deeply about ensuring students are well equipped with the tools they need to be financially literate in the modern world. Leaving high school with basic financial literacy skills is critical to creating the conditions necessary for our students to have the lives they want and deserve. I know that personally, a financial literacy class would have dramatically altered my worldview. Almost 20 years after high school, I can still explain that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook until well into my 20s. Separately, as a first generation college student, if I had truly understood interest rates, I might not be working through heaps of student loan debt, like so many of my peers.

We know teaching financial literacy is more important now than ever, particularly as we continue to address the stark inequities the pandemic has highlighted in our communities.

More importantly, we know there’s a staggering wealth gap between Black and white families. Last year, a report from the Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE) revealed that the median net worth for a white household is 81 times the median net worth for a Black household in the District. As advocates and community members, we are charged with doing everything we can to ensure our students have the tools they need to achieve not only financial security, but financial freedom.

Developing Financial Standards & Implementation Challenges

We greatly appreciate the Council’s attention to this matter. And, while we agree this work is crucial, I also want to elevate a couple potential implementation challenges our school leaders have raised.

First, our school leaders have shared with us that some of our most vulnerable students already struggle to fit in the existing courses required to graduate. They urge you to make sure that in the future, when financial literacy standards are adopted, schools have the flexibility to either create a standalone course or incorporate the standards into existing courses, as many of our high schools have already done.

Second, we urge the Council to consider what skills and expertise will be required to teach financial literacy. If the expertise will require additional staffing resources, then we all should consider the challenges around educator recruitment. The Council could also consider universally available opportunities, such as developing an online curriculum open to all students from every school. This would not only address difficulties in recruiting qualified teachers, but would provide more schedule flexibility to students.

As you move forward with this bill, we urge you to ensure that our leaders have opportunities to participate and help in the development of the financial literacy standards with the SBOE.

Moving Forward

I want to once again thank the Council for considering ways to help students prepare for lifelong success – that’s a goal we all share. Charter school leaders are ready to work with you and the SBOE to ensure that every student has the tools they need to make effective, smart financial decisions for themselves and their families after graduation.

Thank you for your time and I welcome your questions.

(1) The Racial Wealth Gap In Washington, D.C.: Research And Analysis In Support Of The Council Office Of Racial Equity, Council Of The District Of Columbia. Dec. 2021.