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Earlier this year, the state of Washington’s House of Representatives unanimously adopted House Bill 1915 (HB 1915), a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy and education course as a statewide graduation requirement beginning in the 2027-28 school year.

True to the credit union movement’s century-long dedication to financial literacy, inclusion, and education — including community outreach to local schools — House Bill 1915 is supported by Washington’s 58 credit unions.

Passing this bill would mark a turning point in the way the state’s youth begins their lifelong journey in personal finance, and how teachers and parents can begin to incorporate financially healthy concepts, however basic, into their children’s daily lives.

While high schools in the state of Washington are currently required to offer courses in financial education, it is not mandatory to take them. That lack of prioritization and dedication has had its consequences: According to the Center for Financial Literacy, a number of studies indicate that individuals with higher levels of financial literacy make better decisions in personal finance. Those who are financially illiterate, though, were found to be less likely to have a checking account, rainy day emergency fund, retirement plan, or stock purchases.

So it was a pretty big disappointment to learn that the bill died in committee in early March, ending an idea that received largely broad support before getting caught up in details prior to the clock running out on the legislative session. Lawmakers in both chambers could not come to agreement over amendments sent back to the House.

According to KUOW Radio in Seattle, Legislators reiterate there is indeed support for making financial education a requirement – but “in the future.”

Hope begins to float with financial literacy in America’s schools

Despite the legislative failures in Washington state, signs of increasing hope and practical action have begun to emerge in the last decade, a point of celebration for the Financial Literacy Month of April.

Since 2013 there has been more than a 700 percent increase in rules that require students to take a course in personal finance prior to graduating, according to Champlain College’s 2023 National Report Card on High School Financial Literacy. One contributing factor to the surge in these financial literacy offerings was the COVID pandemic, which turned many a household’s attention towards every penny in the family budget and increased efforts to educate children in concepts like saving.

Safe to say we don’t want today’s high schoolers or younger kids to experience such financial circumstances, and reaching our younger children in the learning environments they’re used to has proven to be the answer. Especially when it comes to debt, understanding the concept of lending and borrowing and the value of taking out a small-dollar loan is a powerful lesson that can empower them when the time comes to finance life’s important purchases and investments.

Particularly in today’s digitally-dominant culture, mobile solutions like the QCash small-dollar loan platform represents an easy and teachable tool in helping future consumers protect themselves and even build on their financial health goals and achievements.

Credit unions already taking the lead

Like they say, though, it takes a village, and credit unions around the country have been embracing financial literacy in America’s schools for years by partnering with school districts and community associations on programs that expose students to the fundamental skills of money management.

Consider Gesa Credit Union among the leaders in this area. Gesa, a community-focused credit union with branches across Washington and Idaho, announced on April 8 its dual-purpose partnership with Tacoma Public Schools (TPS).

The first part of this initiative has Gesa bringing its history-making (HSCU) to the district. Gesa’s first HSCU branch in Tacoma opened at Mount Tahoma High School the week of April 8, with five more branches planned for other schools across the district throughout the next few years. Since 2000, Gesa’s HSCU program has provided hands-on, real-life financial industry experience to 13 student-operated high school branches across Washington state. As part of their training, student tellers learn from Gesa team members about banking rules and practices, such as lending and account management, as well as the credit union’s specific systems. These student tellers have limited access within Gesa systems, safeguarding member safety and privacy.

The second part of the initiative is the launch of Gesa’s Affinity Debit Card program at TPS, which creates district- and school-branded debit cards that raise funds for programs benefitting local students, all at no cost to the card-holder. With every swipe, the new co-branded Affinity Debit Card supports Jobs 253, a district-wide initiative that offers meaningful employment opportunities for students across Foss High School, Lincoln High School, Mount Tahoma High School, Silas High School, and Stadium High School.

“Gesa has always strived to provide students across our communities with programs and resources that help them build a strong financial education foundation so that they’re set up for success well before they graduate high school,” said Brandon Allison, Assistant Vice President of Training, Education, and Community Relations at Gesa Credit Union. “The growth we have witnessed in local students who have participated in our HSCU and Affinity Debit Card programs is nothing short of incredible, so we’re happy that we can expand on this impact with our new partners, Tacoma Public Schools. Through our efforts, Gesa is proudly showcasing how impactful a good financial education can be for a young mind.”

By providing our youth with the knowledge and financial tools to navigate the ever-changing twists and turns of personal finance, initiatives like Gesa’s HSCU, Affinity Debit Card, and QCash small-dollar loan programs empower them to blaze their own trail towards a more financially stable and prosperous life and career.

If your credit union is exploring digital small-dollar lending as another step in improving financial literacy for your members, feel free to go to QCash’s Contact Us page to connect with a company representative. If you would like to experience the QCash platform itself, please visit our Request a Demo page. We hope to hear from you!