The Montgomery County school board on Tuesday decided “now is not the time” to begin requiring students to take a financial literacy course prior to graduation, but members didn’t completely rule out the idea.

In a 5 to 3 vote, the board shot down student member Hana O’Looney’s proposal to require all high school students to take a half-credit financial literacy course. Instead, the board approved a plan that requires expanded access to optional courses on the topic. As part of its Tuesday vote, the school board said it will again review the idea, as well as the effectiveness of the efforts to expand access to optional courses, in the spring of 2023.

In explaining the decision to not mandate the course, Montgomery County Public Schools staff members and school board members said they want more time to see how other school districts that recently adopted a similar requirement fare. Also, curriculum changes expected as part of the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — a long-term, legislatively-mandated plan to improve education across the state — are unclear, including their potential impact on graduation requirements.

“I wanted to make this a requirement … but I’m hearing you loud and clear about what’s coming in the Blueprint,” board member Karla Silvestre told MCPS staff members.

A last-minute proposal from O’Looney and member Lynne Harris to create a financial literacy requirement that isn’t tied to course credit seemed to pique other members’ interest, but did not make it to a vote.

The proposal, which board member Scott Joftus called interesting but “half baked,” would allow students to satisfy the requirement by taking a credit-bearing elective course or a noncredit course.

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O’Looney, who graduates from Richard Montgomery High School on Thursday, said just expanding availability of personal finance lessons “doesn’t go far enough.” The skills students would learn — like filing taxes, applying for student aid, understanding credit scores — are too critical, she said.

“I don’t want any more situations where we have as graduates who … trusted MCPS education to serve as a foundation for the rest of their life and find out it hasn’t been and they’re not able to manage their finances and find themselves continually locked in what can be a cycle of poverty,” she said.

Under the financial literacy expansion approved by the school board Tuesday, each of the 25 MCPS high schools will be expected by 2025 to offer a “menu” of courses that provide financial literacy content, including credit-bearing options (an elective course, an online course and a quantitative literacy math course), and a noncredit course (an online module with a built-in assessment).

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Students who choose to complete any of those options would be recognized for doing so during their high school graduation ceremonies, either with a special rope or pin to wear, staff said.

MCPS employees presented data that said of parents surveyed, about 65% wanted the course to be required. About 36% of students surveyed felt the same, according to the data.

Some other concerns about requiring the course included its impact on students’ ability to pursue other courses that interest them, staffing implications and how it might strain some students’ schedules who are struggling to stay on track for graduation. Those students are usually non-native English speakers, students in poverty and students in special education programs.

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However, some school board members argued that those are the students who, in general, most need to take the course.

“It’s going to be a gift to our most at-risk students … who are going to have tools for life that they’ve gotten from us that they maybe didn’t get from taking (other courses),” Harris said. “It’s something that truly adds value.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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