Georgia Schools to Focus on Personal Finance

School officials in Georgia have decided they're going to try to cut the state's high rate of personal bankruptcy. And they'll be starting with kindergarten students. Emily Kopp of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports that the state's Board of Education is making personal finance a key part of school curriculum.

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The state of Georgia has one of the highest rates of personal bankruptcy in the nation. To help fight that problem, the state's school board has approved a plan to make personal finance an important part of what kids learn in kindergarten through high school. Emily Kopp of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.

EMILY KOPP reporting:

At Parkview High School in suburban Atlanta, seniors Candace Cameron(ph) and Alex Burke(ph) sit side by side discussing a trash bill.

CANDACE CAMERON (High School Student): It's 54 for every three months, quarterly, so I divided by three, so we'll pay $18 a month for garbage.

KOPP: For this economics project, they're pretending to be a married couple with three kids. Candace says they're barely surviving on a combined income of $68,000, or $50,000 after taxes.

CAMERON: And monthly, we have about 4,000. One-fourth of that goes towards our house.

ALEX BURKE (High School Student): Taxes are a whole lot more than I thought they would be. Kind of ridiculous.

KOPP: Their teacher created this project, but it could be a statewide requirement starting in 2007 when personal finance is integrated into the curriculum. Educators haven't finalized a lesson plan, but they say older students might learn about credit and loans while elementary school children balance checkbooks in math class. Banker Jim Franklin sits on the Georgia School Board. Even with the current emphasis on testing, Franklin says personal finance will be a priority.

Mr. JIM FRANKLIN (Banker): If a kid in high school flunks a chemistry test because he forgets a formula, that's one thing. But if he doesn't fulfill his obligation on his personal finance, he can flunk part of his life.

KOPP: The National Council on Economic Education quizzed high school students across the country on money management. The average score was a 53, or an F. Now the council is studying whether personal finance classes help students make the right financial decisions in the real world. Director Robert Duvall believes they will.

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (National Council on Economic Education): You've got a fighting chance of reducing personal bankruptcy if you've got informed people who won't make bad decisions.

KOPP: The plan is popular in Georgia. State Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta supports it, but he says it's naive to think lessons alone will reduce the number of people in financial peril.

Senator VINCENT FORT (Georgia): It's not just a matter of, `Oh, I don't know about credit or I don't know about personal finance, and if I know these things, then I'll be OK.' There's a sophisticated financial industry out there whose number-one objective is what? To make profit.

KOPP: But some say that's all the more reason for students to practice borrowing money and paying it back. Parkview senior Chelsea Dawson(ph) is glad to learn about mortgages, car loans and other life expenses now.

CHELSEA DAWSON (High School Senior): We'll have a heads-up. You know, we'll know who the scam artists are and how to prevent it, and maybe it'll help us prevent being bankrupt in the future.

KOPP: Georgia teachers are working with the Department of Education to develop the new curriculum. When it is implemented, Georgia will be the seventh state to require students take personal finance lessons before they graduate. For NPR News, I'm Emily Kopp in Atlanta.

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