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The time for change is now: Building financial freedom

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Nina was only 14 when she began working every day to support herself due to her mother’s drug addiction.

When she was kicked out by her mother, she resorted to couch surfing and staying at shelters. In the midst of this, she developed oral pains that required a root canal. She lacked insurance, so she wouldn’t go to the dentist. When the pain became unbearable, she went to the dentist and spent all of her savings from freshman year of college on the procedure.

Nina was also prohibited from attending part of her senior year of high school due to not being able to afford the cost of getting vaccinated, and thus was unable to comply with her high school’s vaccination requirements. 

As a state, Indiana is far ahead of its game in terms of personal finance education. The state requires finance education from sixth through 12th grade. Indiana also requires an economics class, and all high schools in the state offer a personal finance class.

However, economics class often insufficiently prepares students to engage in financial decisions. There is also little evidence that the provision is being fulfilled in an efficient and educationally fruitful manner to develop real-world skills, which is especially imperative for low-income students like Nina, who often lack access to such resources.

I was fortunate enough to learn about Nina’s story, and we became friends and collaborators through YES Fellows. Now, Nina is working two jobs and attending college as a chemistry student.

Despite Nina’s accomplishments, education on personal finance could have more easily provided a foundation of success. Financial education could have allowed her to find insurance coverage plans for independent youth, and she could have more efficiently managed her debt. Indiana students are not prepared to enter the world of budgeting, credit and other financial sectors, which is why current action is vital.

My team is currently focused on determining whether Indiana’s finance education requirement is being sufficiently upheld. To fill in the gaps of Indiana’s personal finance standards, I have co-founded Building Financial Freedom (BFF), an organization dedicated to cooperation between secondary schools and financial institutions.

BFF is preparing to send a survey to all Indiana high schools and a majority of the state’s banks and credit unions by mid-April. This survey will yield results that show current financial education efforts made by these institutions and interest in expanding these efforts. With this knowledge, BFF can pair up interested organizations to coordinate educational strategies, coursework and events to prepare Indiana students financially.

Despite our emphasis on collaboration between schools and financial institutions, we believe that all organizations can aid our effort to better the financial preparedness of youth.

During this pandemic, money worries are ever growing, and we cannot wait to have this conversation with our youth. Many obstacles threaten the availability and quality of financial education. Students in schools with large free and reduced lunch populations are three times less likely to be required to take a personal finance class, and parents tend to speak differently about money to their sons and daughters. Furthermore, students like Nina managing homelessness and poverty can use education as a powerful tool to diminish and eliminate the hardship. BFF seeks to prepare all youth to not only survive financially, but to thrive and prosper, even when emergencies arise.

Throughout my work with different organizations, I have learned to consider ideological differences and find common ground with allies and opposition.

Democrat Sen. Jean Breaux of District 34 and Republican Rep. Mike Karickhoff both contacted me to evaluate potential changes for Indiana’s personal finance education. I have also found that schools would be more open to free collaboration rather than legislative standards, which we have incorporated into our strategy. BFF focuses on building bridges, rather than barriers, to create lasting change to help set up our children for success.

Please continue the conversation at InnoPower’s Closing the Gap Financial Literacy Town Hall at 6 p.m. March 31 on the Indianapolis Recorder’s Facebook page.

Rachel Labi is a YES Fellow and a co-founder of Building Financial Freedom, an organization dedicated to cross-collaboration between banks and schools to foster financial literacy in Indiana youth. Contact at nyarkoahlabi@gmail.com.

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